The Golden Rule vs. Meetings Students’ Needs

The Golden Rule

The golden rule, “treat others as you would like others to treat you” is applicable and necessary in a variety of settings. However, when it comes to teaching affectively, the principle does not fit the ‘job description’.

I came to this conclusion after much reflection. I say this because there seems to be a contradiction between a prominent educational thought that says: “teachers need to look into the individual needs of every student and address them” and another equally significant ideology that promotes the act of “treating others as one would like to be treated”. Personally, I feel that it is inappropriate to attempt to uphold both these principles concomitantly. As caring teachers, we either endorse the former or the latter.

Although teachers can perform both the tasks mentioned above simultaneously, the outcome of such a practice is not helpful. An illustration would help us understand this proposition.

As a person, I do not like to be forced to do things. I shun those who impose rules and regulations on me. I keep a distance from ‘law-makers’. This does not mean that I do not appreciate procedures and orderly way of functioning. However, when things are imposed rather than discussed and agreed upon, I feel overly controlled, and psychologically bullied.

Further, because I love myself, I protect ‘me’ from the presence and influence of such people. By staying away from them, I am doing a favor to my ‘self’ (that I love dearly)!

Can I treat students the way I would like others to treat me? In this case, I would not ‘require’ students to do things (that they dislike or not used to doing) because I wouldn’t appreciate anyone else doing that to me. However, when it comes to teaching and learning in the classroom, there are things that students ‘must do’ (like engaging in useful educational experiences!). It is a teacher’s duty to make sure that EVERY student benefits from such experiences, in spite of their unwillingness to do so.

But if I treat them as I would like to be treated, then I might become comfortable with the fact that I have upheld the principle of “treating students as I would like them to treat me” (I feel proud that I am not ‘forcing’ them to do things that they don’t like), and in the process, thoughtlessly overlook the principle of “meeting the students’ need” to acquire useful educational experiences. One such ‘useful educational experiences’ is the experience of engaging in active questioning.

Not long ago, I had the privilege of attending a series of workshops conducted by Dr. Ivan Hannel, the founder of Highly Effective Questioning (HEQ) teaching method. The workshops were held at different schools in the state of California. Teachers and administrators who attended these workshops seemed to be happy in the thought that they were caring toward their students. Their care was supposedly reflected in the decision not to ‘push’ students to engage in questioning if they didn’t want to. (Sadly, I held similar a view until I met Dr. Hannel and learned the importance of questioning!)

Ivan Hannel - HEQ

However, Dr. Hannel repeatedly warned the audience at the workshops that students need to be engaged in highly effective questioning to train them to become critical thinkers and take responsibility for their own learning. This is an essential skill required in the new millennium. Every student graduating from the school system needs to be a critical thinker if he/she is to survive in a highly knowledgeable global society.

A caring teacher knows what is good and right for his/her students. A caring teacher steadily works toward providing and instilling in students constructive educational experiences in spite of all odds. Most often, a caring teacher’s behaviors do not reflect the principle of “treating others as one would like to be treated” because this principle clearly compromises the more important task of teaching; fulfilling every student’s educational and socio-emotional need(s), in a way that prepares them to face the challenges of the future!

Copyright April 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

‘Understanding’ Students

It’s easy to say, “Teachers must understand their students and fulfill their needs on a daily basis.” But what does the act of ‘understanding students’ entail? If it is as easy as it is taught and learned in teachers’ training colleges, why is it still seen as an uncommon practice at schools?

Being understood gives rise to a sense of acceptance and belonging. It is an essential human need for survival and growth. It removes the frustration of being misperceived.

On the other hand, when people misunderstand us, their construal of ‘who we are’ become distorted. The image that we want to portray to others is inaccurately projected. Consequently, the feeling of being misunderstood creates an acute discomfort and the desire to remove oneself from social situations.

Understanding Students 2

Therefore, ‘understanding a student’ is only possible when a teacher accurately perceives and accepts the student’s true self. This is a challenging task, especially if a teacher is required to ‘understand’ twenty or more ‘selves’ all at one time, on a daily basis! Nevertheless, it is a task that a caring teacher performs, steadily!

According to Social Psychology, humans attempt to reduce the usage of mental energy while engaging in social interactions by utilizing mental shortcuts known as ‘heuristics’ (to ease social cognition). These mental shortcuts serve as ‘rules of thumb’ to help people construe meaning from a myriad of social situations and stimuli they are exposed to. Heuristics are used to accomplish the following, in social interactions:

  1. Making judgments about an individual’s group membership (e.g.: “Indians eat spicy food. You are an Indian. You eat spicy food.”)
  2. Making judgments about something or someone with whatever information that comes to mind easily (e.g.: “Tsunami affected Indonesia very badly. Indonesia is still recovering from the aftermath of the Tsunami.” – we tend to forget other countries that might be facing similar difficulties because the news media rigorously publicized the effects of Tsunami in Indonesia, and failed to feature the problems in other countries affected by the Tsunami)

Although heuristics are useful for human functioning, taking the effects of such mental shortcuts for granted, and engaging in them without a deliberate reflection, can pose adverse repercussion for the people involved in an interaction. When a teacher solely relies on mental shortcuts to learn about and relate to his/her students, the teaching-learning relationship does not involve true ‘understanding’.

There are no short-cuts for wanting to genuinely understand students in the classroom. Teachers need to take the time and make the effort to get involved in the process of familiarizing themselves with students and their lives in order to understand and cater for their every need. Unwillingness to do so will only communicate indifference and a lack of care on the part of a teacher!

Teachers who rely on mental shortcuts to make decisions (or form judgments) about ‘who their students really are’ might engage in prejudiced thinking, discriminate, and display biases in all aspects of teaching. This is dangerous because a classroom characterized by prejudice, discrimination and bias is a classroom that students fear to attend and learn.

A caring teacher carefully ‘studies’ each student and construes meaning about his/her ‘self’ as accurately as possible. A caring teacher does not engage in and conform to stereotypical thinking patterns that are usually unfounded and negative.

Understanding Students

Understanding students involves ‘knowing’ them. Genuine knowing is possible when teachers learn to relate to students in a more personal way, without relying on their mental shortcuts (to save energy that would be wasted anyway?). Instead, a caring teacher, lets time and relationship reveal ‘who a student really is’ and appreciates him/her as a person!

Examples of instances when heuristics work against relationships in the classroom:

  1. When a teacher concludes that all students from low socio-economic background would not do well in the classroom
  2. When a teacher associates ‘intelligence’ with good looks
  3. When a teacher judges a student’s personality traits based on his/her ethnic background
  4. When a ‘male’ teacher decides that no amount of effort would help a ‘female’ student to excel in science or math
  5. When a teacher conveniently punishes ‘male’ students because they are supposedly ‘violent’ and aggressive by nature

Copyright April 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

Does ‘Caring’ Make a Teacher Popular?

Research Designs Class

In life, we do many things to secure the attention of others around us. This attention indicates that we are accepted and appreciated. It further tells us that our thoughts and actions are approved and recognized as being worthy of notice. Similarly, a teacher does many things in the classroom to get the attention of other colleagues, administrators, and students. This is a natural tendency of any teacher. In fact, it is a ‘growth need’ that must be fulfilled for meaningful living. It is not unusual for teachers to expect to be appreciated and approved of their classroom practices. The positive attention given to teachers serves as a motivator to help them find meaning for being a teacher!

Some teachers expect more than just simple attention. They strive to become the ‘center of attention’ in the classroom and at school. They desire to bask in the undivided attention and adoration of everyone in the school toward themselves. They do everything possible to attain this goal and keep it that way. Sometimes, all other goals as a teacher become less important than the need to have everyone’s attention on oneself and gain popularity!

However, the effort to become a caring teacher does not lead to popularity. The path takes a teacher to a place where something more beautiful than popularity comes to view.

Popularity requires that teachers let go of some of their deep rooted principles and compromise in giving students and others ‘what they want or desire’ (with no apparent benefit for them or others). However, a caring teacher doesn’t give students and others with what they want or desire. Instead, he continually strives to provide them with ‘what is good for them’ (clearly beneficial and uplifting for them and others). In other words, a caring teacher pushes students and others to do the ‘right thing’. He does not do things to please each and every member of the school to gain popularity.

Where does all this take a caring teacher? Well, although the path does not lead a caring teacher to become popular, it does lead him to become a RESPECTED individual.

Respect is gained when popularity is sacrificed! A caring teacher strives to gain the respect of his students and others around him. He doesn’t worry about popularity and pleasing everyone to become the center of attention. By doing so, a caring teacher upholds principles and truths that are universally empowering and permanently affecting people to uphold ‘humanity’.

Respect gained in the classroom, by a caring teacher, is a more stable indicator of positive teaching/learning experiences and greater academic achievements at school. Popularity on the other hand, dies as quickly as a teacher loses his temper and decides that he is tired of pleasing people and fulfilling their ‘silly’ needs.

Copyright April 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,

The ‘Rose Model’: Caring for Students is Possible!

Do we have the Time to Care for Students?

Teaching poses a variety of challenges. Teachers are responsible and accountable to many people, institutions, and organizations, be it formal or informal. They have to plan for, prepare, and implement a myriad of demanding tasks. Instructing, grading, reporting, disciplining, supporting, and communicating are few of the many tasks expected from a teacher. if this is the case, where do teachers find the time to care for students? As we know, care is a deliberate, effortful, and timestaking process. If teachers are not relieved from some of their existing responsibilities, can they be expected to become caring toward their students?

Perhaps the problem lies in the question itself. Can teachers be relieved from their existing responsibilities? It is evident that responsibilities only add up. Any teacher would agree that the demands to engage in more and more responsibilities at school are inevitable. So, this is not an option to consider. In fact, if a teacher fails to perform any of these, he is likely to be reprimanded and possibly fired! Reducing work load isn’t a clear way out from this situation.

The act of caring shouldn’t be seen and considered to operate at the ‘periphery’ of the act of teaching. It would be wise and practical to integrate the act of caring for students in ALL THAT A TEACHER DOES, whether it is inside or outside of the classroom. As I said in the book, “How to Become a Caring Teacher”, students will not trust a teacher who teaches something and does something totally contrary to what he teaches. The act of caring should color every activity, every atmosphere, every person, every responsibility, and every interaction in and outside of the classroom

This is possible through the “rose model” to classroom teaching and interaction. If you take a closer look at a rose flower, you will realize that the petals are closely intertwined. A daisy, on the other hand, has petals that are separated and distinctly visible. So, in the daisy, one sees each petal; whereas, in the rose, one sees the whole flower without regard to individual petals.

A caring teacher’s responsibilities (like the many petals in a rose) are coated with his ability to care for his students. Every act and effort made in the classroom are marked by the intention to cater to the ‘humanity’ of an individual student. Thus, following the rose model, ‘care’ is at the core of everything a teacher does.

Does caring for students take time?

Yes it does, if a teacher considers ‘caring’ as one of the many responsibilities (the daisy model) imposed on him.

Daisy Model - Considers Caring for Students and Added Burden

No it doesn’t, if a teacher considers ‘caring’ as the ingredient that holds all other responsibilities together and give meaning and efficiency to them!

Rose Model - Provides Time to Care for Students

The choice…is YOURS!

Copyright April 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan,