Footsteps

“Don’t leave anything but your footsteps!”

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I saw this quotation on signposts along the footpath that leads to a famous waterfall in Malaysia. As I pondered upon the words of this line, I couldn’t help but be influenced by its implication for teachers.

Without doubt, the statement is an appeal to people, encouraging and calling them to keep the surrounding of the waterfall clean and tidy. It is obvious that visitors to this waterfall haven’t been friendly enough to its surrounding. Often times, they have caused damage to its beauty. Plastic and paper bags, bottles and cans, broomsticks, rotten food, etc., were some of the few items that I personally saw, thrown away without care and concern, during my visit to the waterfall. People do this in spite of having garbage disposal bins every few meters along the footpath.

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Teachers affect students for eternity – they will never know where their influence ends! Teachers invariably leave footprints on students. They affect students’ way of thinking, their behavior, aspiration, emotion, spirituality, and every other aspects of life. The mere presence of a teacher changes the very being of an individual student. The experiences exchanged by both teachers and students help them to leave indelible mark on each other.

However, we often notice instances where teachers leave more than footprints. Just like the dirt and unwanted items disposed carelessly by visitors at the waterfall, teachers often hurl harmful, unkind, impolite, unloving, and uncaring words, actions, and thoughts at students. These significantly damage the ‘beauty’ that is inherent in each individual student. Many individuals become nasty and irresponsible because much of such negativity was hurled at them at school, by teachers whom they respected and desired to please.

The hurt that teachers cause students is more harmful than the ones caused by any other people. This fact is justifiable because students look up to their teachers and expect them to be loving, kind, and caring while teaching them about life and everything else. Students feel deceived when teachers do just the opposite and communicate authority, indifference, unkindness, and above all, hatred.

Let us remember, as teachers, that we are called to leave footprints and nothing more or less. Our footprints should be in the form of nurturing interactions and relationships that promote the holistic well-being of students. Failing to do this means that we are willing to consciously damage the lives of individuals who seek our guidance and care.

Students trust that their teachers will change them for the best! (not just for the better)

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com

You ‘saved’ her!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at a Camp-meeting in the Eastern Cape (Queenstown), in South Africa. It was a total of 5 sermons that I preached, including a presentation on Christian Lifestyle. It was a total of four hours that I spoke for on Sabbath. I was quite exhausted. On Sunday I had to deliver the farewell message and had the opportunity to listen to a colleague of mine preach for the morning manna. While listening to him, I thought to myself that it would be perfect if I could link my message with his, to let my message be an extension of his message from the morning. I had already preached a message similar to his many months ago and I could repeat it without much effort. It was a perfect plan.

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But when I was about to stand behind the pulpit, I did not preach what I thought was best but preached a message that I was impressed with earlier.

I was anxious to drive back home at the end of the sermon.
As I pulled out of the ‘parking area’ of the camp-meeting venue, I was stopped by a woman who introduced herself as a Shepherdess. I have great respect for Shepherdesses. She said: “Pastor, do you know that you saved a soul today?”
I replied: “really!”

“Yes,” she replied, “I have invited a young woman who was determined to -end her life this weekend but I asked her to postpone and attend this camp-meeting today. Your message saved her soul today. Thank you.”

I simply replied: “Praise the Lord!”

The next few moments, I did not have the strength to turn my radio or cell-phone on. I just kept on the road with tears in my eyes. What a privilege to be used by God to save a soul. When I had wanted not to preach the message that I did, it was to accommodate me and “I” was going to preach.

It was yesterday, I was reminded that the Preacher is the voice of God, and should not take his calling lightly.

preacher.gifI am sharing this experience to encourage you to be faithful in your calling to preach the gospel. You may never know, who the Lord has arranged to HIM that day. Let them hear His voice rather than ours. After all, if they meet us and forget us, they lose nothing but if they meet Jesus and forget Him, they lose everything. Fellow preachers, this recent experience of mine made me realize that as a preacher, I am the nail on which the picture of Christ should hang. After all, Jesus said: ” … If I be lifted up …”

and the greatest testimony is a life lived for Jesus…

Copyright by Dr. Paul Charles, July 2006, www.paulinperson.com

Crying to Learn?

Teachers often struggle with de-motivated students. They literally pull their hair to figure out ways to help this kind of students and have them succeed in the classroom. However, motivation is such an abstract thing that it is hard to externally force it onto a child. It all boils down to the individual student’s decision. Choosing to become motivated or not is up to the student. Teachers can only do so much! But there is something interesting about motivation that is worthy of our attention at this juncture.

Infants cry for many reasons. Usually, they cry when they are hungry, wet, or experience discomfort. There are times when they cry because they are angry (clearly, anger is an inherent emotion…accentuated by the environment). What fascinated me these few weeks is the fact that infants also cry when they are deprived of some learning. Yes! They cry when they are held back from LEARNING. There is an obvious paradox between how children respond to learning when they are younger and when they are a little older. Why does this happen?

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I learned about this from my son, Michael. He started crawling a few weeks ago and he gets excited about moving around the house, and every where else. There was a time he was so persistent about being carried around. This was when he couldn’t move on his own and wanted to see, hear, and feel different things. Now however, he prefers to be down on the floor…exploring and gaining control of his immediate environment. There are times when I had to remove him from a particular spot (in the house or else where) because he got hold of hazardous objects. Sadly, he is not (yet) able to perceive the inherent danger in the objects that attract his attention. All he knows is that he longs to learn about everything around him. For Michael, learning is fun, exciting, and a very integral part of his life. If I tried removing his opportunities for learning…he cries (on top of his lungs!!!). Every time this happens, I smile! I smile because I didn’t have to do anything to MOTIVATE my son to learn.

This is not the case in the classroom, at school. Students do not cry to get motivated to learn. In fact, they cry not wanting to study. In the end, parents and teacher shed more tears hoping to see their students develop an intrinsic desire to learn and become successful individuals.

What has gone wrong then? Every individual starts out as a curious infant who is highly motivated to learn. But significant adults, due to their busy and tired life, require their young children to DO NOTHING and KEEP QUIET. Adults are selfish in many ways in that they always seek to maximize their own pleasure and reduce (significantly) learning opportunities for children.

Imagine this: If I really want to continue encouraging my son to explore and learn from his environment, I must constantly clean the house, arrange his toys, clean him, stay awake with him and lose sleep, sacrifice my own play, talk to him (even though his language at this stage makes no sense to me), show him different ways to hold and manipulate objects, cry with him, etc. The list is not exhaustive. It goes on and on. There are tones of other things that I need to do if I want to provide continual opportunities for Michael to ‘indulge’ in learning.

This is where most adults fail. By the time a child gets into the school, he/she is fully aware of the fact that the adults at school are no different from the ones at home. They too are too lazy and unconcerned to allow opportunities and support for learning. Thus, children, in order to avoid possible pain, disappointment, and embarrassment, choose to ‘act’ de-motivated in whatever happens in the classroom and the school at large.

The good news is: Motivation can be awakened by allowing students to entertain the little children in themselves. When they are given deliberate and concrete evidences of appreciation and recognition for their childlike desires to learn (most often, learning in children takes place in an unconventional manner), they will become allies with teachers and commit themselves to building new learning communities that are intrinsically motivated and achievement oriented.

Increasing motivation in students is not an impossible task. But trying to do it through psychological and educational interventions often proves to be a failure. Rather, teachers would do well if they recognize the fact that students are inherently motivated and that teachers can provide environments in which this dormant (put-to-sleep) aspect of learning comes alive!

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com


The Two Keys to Success in the Classroom

Usually, teachers react to situations and classroom difficulties. Since reactivity leads to impulsiveness (lack of opportunity to reflect about things), it doesn’t yield constructive outcomes. It’s important that teachers prepare, anticipate, and constantly expect the type of challenges and experiences that they will have to face and deal with. When this happens, they will be able to demonstrate kindness, care, and genuine interest for students, in a more deliberate manner. I believe that ANTICIPATION and PREPARATION are the keys to achieving genuine success in teaching and learning!

This is also applicable in other relationships we forge in life. Most married couples struggle to see eye-to-eye because they fail to anticipate and prepare for potential conflicts. However, both of these require a substantial amount of mental energy (at first). Once couples start doing this on a daily basis, it becomes almost automatic. Nevertheless, since humans are dynamic beings, the process continues to evolve and change from time to time. To be successful in any relationship, one has to constantly anticipate and prepare…to face the inevitability of human (spouse’s) inconsistencies.

To really think about it…Jesus demonstrated this to us in all of his experiences here on earth. Sometimes, the questions He presented to his followers were in anticipation of what was coming ahead of Him/them. He anticipated abundance of blessings (two fish and five loaves multiplied into so many…) that he asked them to sit in proper order so that they can collect and save the left-overs, etc. He anticipated the agonizing separation from His Father (on the cross), which prompted Him to pray in the garden – preparation for the moment of pain. We can many such examples if we examine the Scriptures.

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Teachers often possess good intentions. However, these good intentions translate themselves into ‘evil’ actions when they are wrought in impulsive reactiveness to situations (the quick-fix mentality and approach never yielded anything substantial in terms of improving the cognitive and affective aspects of teaching and learning). The inability to ANTICIPATE and PREPARE (which results in constructive and well-thought responses and solutions) leads to many unwanted squabbles and misunderstanding between students and teachers. The only way to avoid this is to become PROACTIVE agents of care, kindness, peace, love, and patience in the classroom. Teachers who initiate and engage in behaviors, conversations, and thoughts that reflect all these positive qualities can expect to spread an epidemic of ‘cognitive-social-emotional-well-being’ in the classroom.

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com


Building Self-Esteem, Concretely

“We find that people’s beliefs about their efficacy affects the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent efforts, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” – Albert Bandura

Often, educators’ and psychologists’ suggestions to bolster students’ self-esteem seem abstract, mystical, and out-of-reach. Although I don’t deny the usefulness of such suggestions and strategies, there are still questions in my mind pertaining to the attainability and practicality of such proposals.

For example, in the late 1980’s and early 1990s’, the world was flooded with self-development books. People all around the world talked about positive self-image and suggested ways to attain one. Most of the suggestions that I have personally came across were inspiring and emotionally moving (in the form of quotations). However, authors in this field were labeled as having exceptional verbal/linguistic intelligence and knew how to manipulate and play with words to touch our minds and hearts. These inspiring quotations do little or nothing to actually change one’s self-image in a favorable manner.

Words (ingeniously put together to form clauses and sentences) can elicit mental reactions, and arouse emotions. However, positive self-talks do not necessarily intervene in situations where they are truly required. Even if one recalls an inspiring quotation from a great writer in moments of emergency, it is unlikely that the quotation itself serves as a tool to respond and gain control over the emergency situation. Most often, humans react, rather than respond to situations in which they find great amount of frustration and discomfort. In this sense, we as humans continue to develop and experience lowered image of ourselves due to our inability to gain control of circumstances that come our way on a daily basis.

In my opinion, we need to be more concrete when we talk about building the self-esteem of students. Teachers know that anything that cannot be observed and measured are difficult to attain. That’s one reason why teachers are required to write SPECIFIC objectives in their lesson plans. These objectives are used to gauge the quality of teaching and learning. Without them, teaching will take place haphazardly and accomplish little or nothing!

How can we be specific about a psychological construct like self-esteem? How can we help build self-esteem of students in an observable and measurable manner? The answer is: use specific, observable, and measurable classroom intervention! Let me explain.

What kind of students do you think suffer from low self-esteem in the classroom? (For now, let’s forget about others factors that contribute to a low self-esteem, like the home environment, neighborhood, SES, etc. Instead, let’s focus on the teaching-learning experiences and how self-esteem is related to these two activities that take place in the classroom).

You are right! Students who suffer from low self-esteem in the classroom are those who have not performed well and who think (wrongly) that they will never perform well (in one or more subjects). Albert Bandura was correct when he proposed that there is a direct, positive correlation between self-efficacy and self-esteem. According to him, the knowledge (awareness) and ability to master (or gain control) and achieve competence in different areas of learning are necessary to bolster the self-esteem of students. Students feel small and de-motivated when they experience significant lack of control in their pursuit to accomplish different academic tasks.

I can relate my personal experience to illustrate this point. I grew up in an unstable home and my childhood experiences gave me more reasons to develop low-esteem than otherwise. When I went to school, there were subjects that I excelled in, and there were also subjects that I struggled with. One such subject (at high school) was math. I struggled with math and continued to struggle simply because my math teachers constantly instilled in me a hopeless attitude toward the subject (“You can’t become competent in math because you are not made for it. So forget about mastering the subject”). Eventually, my math teachers were successful in psyching me to think that I can never master the subject of math, hence, ruining my self-esteem (by reducing my self-efficacy in this particular subject). Their views about my abilities in math were so untrue because during my ninth grade, I had Chinese friends who personally helped me with the subject. I scored high in the board exam, qualifying me to a science stream/specialization at tenth grade. By not helping me through appropriate intervention, my math teachers were responsible in destroying the way I looked at myself and my ability to gain control of a relatively easy subject such as math.

Teachers often use their time and energy to ‘select’ capable students and work exclusively on making them better. But isn’t this a futile endeavor especially when education is supposed to build and nurture each individual student in the classroom? Instead of engaging in the selection of already-capable students (and working solely with them), teachers should consider everyone in the classroom as needing positive intervention in BUILDING and DEVELOPING competence. When this happens, students’ will be helped to view themselves in a more positive and hopeful manner.

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Since the main activity in the classroom is the learning of subjects, helping students to gain control (mastery) over academic subjects would lead to an increase in positive self-esteem. To achieve this, teachers will have to use their resources and professional abilities to provide on-going support, instead of prematurely concluding who will and will not make it in the learning process.

Education is not about testing and validating students who have the potential to develop and grow into successful people. Rather, it is all about bringing out and nurturing the already-existent potential in each and every student (individual differences noted) regardless of his/her current performance. When teachers do this, they invariably engage in the process of actively building a favorable self-image among students.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that teachers can concretely boost students’ self-esteem by building competence and allowing students opportunities to gain mastery in various areas of academic tasks.

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com


Gaining Mastery and Competence: Redefining ‘Play’

Have you ever wondered why children love playing? Play is an important part of children’s lives. Without it, we cannot imagine childhood. Adults like to play too. However, as we grow, we have other things to worry about and do not get the time and opportunities to engage in enjoyable play. Nevertheless, deep inside, every one of us long to play.

When I was visiting my friend in South Africa last December (2005), we had feasts after feasts in the homes of his relatives and friends. We had a great eat everywhere we went and enjoyed ourselves to the full with fun talks and games.

During one such visitation, I noticed that the gathering was filled with children – cousins, nephews, nieces, etc. My friends’ two children (Leandra and Matthew) blended in and pretty soon, they were busy playing with the rest of the kids present for the event.

Being a psychologist, I constantly engage in naturalistic observation of human behavior (regardless of time and place). I am constantly on the look out for such an opening to enhance my understanding of human behavior and factors that affect the same. Hence, I took advantage of this situation to learn about children and their motivation to play.

I started with questions in my head. Why do children find play so fascinating? Why will they even sacrifice food and all other things for play? What is in a ‘play’ activity that really drives them so strongly? I looked for answers to these questions by keenly monitoring everything that transpired during the play.

It was obvious that they were having fun. But can ‘fun’ alone explain the motivation to play? Is there anything else? Is there anything else that we have not been able to identify so far? Something more important…? Well, as I was reflecting on all these, one particular incident opened my eyes to a whole new world of understanding the play behavior of children.

Every child that I noticed that day was actively attempting to MASTER a particular task (or enhance a skill). This was evident especially in my friend’s son, Matthew. After coercing other children (he cried the whole time until he was included in the game) to allow him to play with the group, he took his position and started hitting the tennis ball over the net (other kids didn’t accept him initially because he was ‘underage’ for this game). Sadly, he wasn’t really hitting the ball (this is why the older children didn’t want to include him in the first place).

However, once in a while, whenever he did hit the ball, he perked up (it didn’t matter to him if the ball went over the net or not), and gave the biggest smile you can ever imagine. I noticed a great sense of accomplishment and the accompanying contentment, happiness, and excitement in him.

Then I realized what really drives children to play. Children are highly motivated to play because they get to learn and sharpen new skills. By nature, children constantly look for ways to gain MASTERY of themselves and the environment around them. Hence, play serves as a channel that allows children to gain COMPETENCE in myriad of life-skills, vital to the functioning of an individual.

I asked my friend about his son’s desire and motivation to play on our way back home. The only answer he could give at that time was that ‘play is fun and children love to have fun’.

Although I don’t deny this answer, I am now more convinced than ever, that play is fun mainly because children get to gain MASTERY and build COMPETENCE. Thus, children become actively engaged in something that helps them to learn and progress. In essence, children love to learn!

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How do all these apply to teaching, particularly affective teaching? Teachers should accept the fact that children are inherently motivated to learn. We should stop battling with students in our attempts to put some ‘sense’ in them and show them the importance of learning. Children like to learn and undergo positive changes from their learning experience.

However, traditional teaching has failed because it did not focus on helping children develop self-efficacy (knowing that “I can do something effectively”). Thousands of children suffer from injured self-esteem, caused invariably by an inability to gain self-confidence through mastery of useful occupation or tasks at school. Unfortunately, competence has been defined as the ability to fit into a uniform mold of studentship and obtaining grades that would qualify one to move to the next level. For many decades, learning at school has been an exercise of ‘dull-content-acquisition’ with limited opportunities for exploration and application.

The school cannot be blamed for this. Schools always lack resources and expertise to accomplish something more than mere production of graduates who are academically similar (copies). However, teachers can make use of this knowledge to effect positive changes in their classrooms. If gaining competence and achieving mastery motivate children’s play behavior, teachers can provide opportunities to build their students’ motivation to learn by applying the same principle to teaching.

When children play, they are highly motivated and pay undivided attention because they get to gain competence and achieve mastery in the process. If teachers arrange learning activities in such a way that students experience instances in which they build competence and mastery of important tasks, they will find new meaning and energy to learn in the classroom. Gaining competence results in positive self-image, which in turn results in higher level of self-esteem. These will eventually lead to higher level of performance at school…only this time, students get to accomplish academic tasks by utilizing their own unique approaches! (this can reduce ‘learned-clones’)

Matthew’s smile constantly reminds me that students can be motivated to learn by allowing them to gain mastery and build competence in the classroom. Highly motivated students learn for fun. But that is not the only reason why they are propelled to learn. The more important reason, I would say, is the ability to see positive changes in one’s behavior and the satisfaction that comes from knowing that one constantly improves.

As humans, we all are born with a high need to gain control of ourselves and our surroundings. Play, allows for the fulfillment of this need. When the learning experiences at school cater to this particular need of students, teaching becomes more meaningful and effective.

Copyright July 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com