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,

6 thoughts on “The Golden Rule vs. Meetings Students’ Needs”

  1. Dear Dr Roy

    I enjoyed the articles on this website very much. They make a powerful and persuasive contribution to the scholarship on affective teaching. Keep up the good work.

    I don’t entirely agree with your assertion of the mutual exclusivity of the Golden Rule and Meeting Students’ Needs, but appreciate the fact that some tension may exist between the realisation of these two principles. Nevertheless, I feel that it is still possible for both principles to be evident in the relationship between a caring teacher and his/her students.


  2. Dear Dr Edward,

    Hell, I hope everything goes well for you.
    Your posts are very good, congratulations!
    Since you ask me for comments, here are a few that I’d like to make:

    In the first article, I would suggest removing the word “overly” in “I feel overly controlled”, because overly may be too subjective for your readers to agree with you, and in this kind of article, you want the reader to share your views.
    At the end of the same first article, as a reader, I feel there should be a little more summary for conclusion; in other words, I feel the end of the article a little “abrupt”.

    Similar views or teaching can be found in W. Glasser’s books, among which: Glasser, W. (1990, 1992: 2nd, expanded ed.) The Quality School: Managing Students Without Coercion, Harper Prennial (he is the author of “Reality Therapy”, among other books).

    By the way, I do share a lot with you about teaching (although it is an ideal, and not something I can say I achieve).
    This is an excerpt of my syllabus for School Counselling:
    Final remarks:

    The instructor does not believe in coercive teaching approaches for elective courses, he sees his role in the learning process as a facilitator, trying to bring forth a good learning environment. […]

    Critical for the successful practice of counseling psychology are Creative thinking: the ability to engage in discovery, supposition and imagination ; practical thinking: the ability to practice, use, apply and implement information in the school environment ; and tacit knowledge: the kind of knowledge that is not explicitly taught, but allows a person to succeed in a given environment (Sternberg et al., 1996) (maybe that’s why people who love theories usually don’t like school counseling, and also why school psychologists are often very practical and pragmatic in their approach to problems).

    Please keep in mind that this places as much responsibility on you for the success of this course as on the instructor.


    But what is to me a question, is why there is this new tendency for teachers now to move towards these views of teaching.
    I think big sociological factors are now at play. The first time I noticed that the teaching had to be completely changed was when they started a post-graduate curriculum in clinical psychology at my university in Belgium. Most of the students were already working adults. This made tha usual teaching style of most of the teachers inadequate.
    Maybe the most powerful determinant of these changes that are only starting to develop in educational styles at school com from the fact that the diploma itself has lost it’s intrinsic value. A diploma isn’t sufficient to help you get a job, so just holding the paper isn’t much. Maybe the students instinctively know it and this makes the teacher’s power weaker. So the teacher has to negotiate with students much more. It may be similar to what happened in medicine: patients nowadays don’t trust their doctors the same way as before: they want to become partners in their health choices (to me, this reflects partly the fact that doctors don’t “own” medicine anymore, as teachers don’t own science anymore…?

    Well, this is only a few thoughts that I jotted without much revising, just to share a few ideas…

    Anyway, I did like your web article very much. found them useful. Probably I will have to read them from time to time as it is easy to get out of the track when pressure from other sources than teaching increases.


    JF Botermans.

    P.S.: Thank you for helping Sr Tania with her questionnaire!

  3. Hi Roy,

    My sister and I were discussing whether teachers being “caring” is essential to learning. For instance, should teachers be personable to their students?She did not feel that it was necessity for a teacher to indicate care for his/her students, so long as the teacher provided the knowledge needed, and the inspiration to keep learning.
    There are many angles to consider. Let’s keep discovering more.
    Great job on the website!

    🙂 arlene

  4. Dear Ar…

    thank you very much for the comment…thanks to your sister too. So, you have a good partner to get intellectually and philosophical ‘engaged’ now ha!!!

    I must ask your sister to read my book then…she might not agree with it…but being a caring teacher…I see definite difference in the way students perform. The same students who get a ‘D’ in other classes could get a ‘B’ in my class simply because the approach of the teachers are different!

    Did you also know that family relationship and EQ correlates are the best predictors of success in academics and work?

    If ‘care’ is not demonstrated…students become estranged from the teacher. In this situation, the teaching-learning process is nothing but mere ‘a mechanically-driven-intellectual’ process of acquiring knowledge (meaning is detached in this case – people ‘die’ when there is an absence of meaning…remember the book “the meaning of life” by victor frankl?) – the outcome of such an experience is proven to be quickly forgotten. In other words…what is learned in the absence of a ‘caring’ atmosphere (created by a caring teacher) is NOT REMEMBERED…simply because maximum brain performance only occurs when the left prefontal lobe (responsible for positive emotions) which is a part of the frontal lobe (responsible for higher cognitive functions and memory) are activated in the teaching-learning process!

    Knowing ‘brain research’ and its contribution to learning, I cannot NOT use this knowledge to enhance learning in the classroom. Yes, you can still choose to teach devoid of emotions (care)…but then, you are doing no favor for your students…whose lives depend on you, on a daily basis!!! Again…THE CHOICE IS YOURS…!

  5. Dear Son,

    Very interesting! Yes, frontal lobe kicks in when the life experience is meaningful. Meaning IS everything. As you said, without it, people die.

    No wonder our Lord conveys His information to us with such CARE! Such Divine Love! Come to think of it, when I first begun reading the Bible I would remember whole passages, word for word, without ever putting any effort to memorize it. My front lobe was working….ha? Yes, His CARE and Love for me, “activated” my brain to learn and to know every information He gave me.

    Dear Roy, as you choose to care, your soul will need a lot of refueling. You yourself have a need to be taken care of. Expose yourself to the loving care of the Word (who became flesh) often. The Word, when taken by faith, will refuel your energies, will propel you forward. Look what it says:

    “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus; that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” 2 Cor. 5:14

    Mom & Dad

  6. Dear Dr Ed

    Your article on meeting the needs of students in the classroom does spark a sense of fulfillment and encouragement to continue working with students and facilitating for their successful learning.
    When we come to the point (debate) as to whether a teacher should help the student learn what they want to rather than what they have to; isn’t it a bit controversial?
    i. The things taught may not be in compliance with what some parents want their children to learn.
    ii. It can be considered an abuse of the childs mind.
    So my question is, offcourse keeping in mind the many types of intelligences, how does a teacher strike a balance between following a school curriculum and making a child competent among his peers inside and outside the classroom?
    And to complicate it more is it necessary for a teacher to ensure that a child likes or loves what he /she has learnt or is learning.
    Thanx! I must say your articles have given me an e-destination to head to…. May God give you strength to continue and never stop thinking.


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