Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Shawwal 6, 1445 H
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Kids can’t be right... all the time

The level of perfection the kids see in front of them, day after day, simply creates more pressure within them
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Apparently many kids in our classrooms today feel they need to be perfect, and that making mistakes is just the first crack in a wall of invincibility, and that’s why so many of them demonstrate poor classroom behaviour. They don’t have our experience of 'making mistakes.’ We do all make them.

This issue was raised by researchers Adelson and Wilson (2009), when they investigated flipped scenarios, where kids today feel the need to be perfect, in the face of seemingly faultless teachers, who when they make mistakes, ‘fix’ them without missing a step. “For children who believe their best is rarely good enough, perfectionism can lead to guilt, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, depression pessimism, obsessive and compulsive behaviour and a sense of rigidity.”

So, the level of perfection the kids see in front of them, day after day, simply creates more pressure within them, to either be similarly ‘perfect,’ or creating a distraction, a diversion, rather than to possibly be wrong when they are asked for a response. They don’t know that teachers will rarely ask a young learner for a response without knowing they know the answer. It’s almost teaching 101. So, we have a live opportunity for change within such environments. We must create environments that will ease the pressure they must feel, allowing more class contributions, developing greater self-appreciation, self-confidence, and self-esteem, all massive influences on effective learning.

Our learners will interact much more effectively with us, whether as teachers, or later as lecturers, if we exhibit some sign of vulnerability. Not for a moment suggesting that we should be looking to manufacture a situation of vulnerability, but rather to be awake to an opportunity to do so, should one present itself. Thomas Kane (2012), prominent in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was asked, "Do you really think you can quantify the 'art' of teaching?" He responded that was not the question we should be asking, as it is impossible to codify all the nuances of great teaching. However, he felt that the teacher’s usefulness may depend less on their ability to be without peer, than them having a reliable image, not outstanding, not super, but reliable. In other words, not to be perfect, but like their students, flawed somewhat, allowing them to feel better about themselves, while they are in the classroom.

The psychology of learning is fickle, yet, if we are to believe Maslow’s (1943) ‘Hierarchy of needs,’ ensuring our students feel safe, secure, and comfortable, and being able to relate to their teacher, comes a very close second to their physiological needs of food, water, and shelter. Graham Holderness (1989) explained that the teacher is often idolised, but a flawed hero draws greater empathy. So, it may never be a terribly ‘bad’ thing to have some element of themselves, ‘laid bare,’ that flaw and its virtue ensuring they retain the learner’s admiration and respect, for longer.

Setting a high benchmark in terms of something, anything, is important, and two things that are very simple to implement, and are remarkably effective in setting standards for our learners. These clearly reinforce the character of our teaching processes, but also offer numerous opportunities for developing effective learning relationships in line with the ‘human’ element of being a teacher. Being early to class, well-prepared, and having some processes in place sets a standard that can be casually laced with informality.

Being fastidious about having the day, date, topic, and a starter task on the board, with relevant resources gives certainty every lesson, and make it easy for them to ‘ease’ into the learning. These are not things that the students will identify as staggeringly important, but they will understand, without being told, this is the way it must be. Teachers don’t want to be heroes, but do want to change lives, and if all it takes is a little self-deprecation... we can do that!

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