Will the trio meet?

While teachers are professionally trained to care for students, parents do so experientially. The care of teachers and parents is similar in that they both intend to provide the best for the child. On the other hand, it is different because teachers and parents hold different expectations of students/children. An additional variable to these is the child’s own aspirations, choices, and expectations of him/herself. While tension typically characterizes the competing motives among these individuals, the eventual outcome impacts all three significantly.

Parents

Well-intentioned parents believe that education is the key to succeed in life. Whether a parent has limited or complete understanding of education, its origin, purpose, and characteristics, he/she tend to view it positively. Parents’ hopeful attitude toward education reflects their desire to see their child(ren) live more fulfilling, comfortable, and dignified lives than themselves. Parents think that education is a life-changing means to the end of experiencing the joys of being educated.

Consequently, parents set specific plans for their child(ren) and they start early. A lot of parents think about their child(ren)’s education, career, life-partner, etc., even before he/she celebrates his/her first birthday. Parents often live out the future of their child(ren) in the present by visualizing all possibilities that could be achieved. However, their primary pre-occupation centers around the product of education, disregarding its process (e.g. Grades, assignments, projects, awards, certificates, university admission, etc.). Unless truly devoted, parents do not get into studying and understanding the actual philosophy, psychology, and mechanics of education.

Teachers

Because of professional training, teachers understand the technicalities of education better than parents. Teachers are also trained to put education in the context of children’s development and needs. They talk about and provide education in systematic, reflective, and creative ways. Curriculum, instructional strategies, classroom behavior management, assessment, etc. are some of their pre-occupation. Teachers view children as the recipients of their expertise in education.

Teachers experience an elated sense of satisfaction if and when theories and/or principles learned during teacher training could be utilized successfully with children in the classroom. Hence teachers define student success only inasmuch as the accomplishment occurs as a result of their direct intervention and input (at least that is what they would like to think and believe).

Children

Sandwiched between parents and teachers, students view education with mixed feelings. They operate in between the two emphases given to education from the two most important social institutions known to humans. Children do not understand why parents are gung ho about pre-determining how most of their educational experiences are encountered, without consulting them. At school, children wonder why they feel like objects of experimentation – where school administrators and teachers are eager to conduct new studies on them to discover fresh insight into how teaching and learning really work.

Finding a common ground

It is not difficult for the three groups of people directly involved in the process and product of education to agree upon a unified appreciation of what a school should stand for. This is possible when everyone starts looking at, talking about, and taking action on education based on a better, more realistic understanding about its true nature and significance. The negative cycle that perpetuates misconception about education must be broken and replaced by a progressive view about teaching and learning.

Parents should stop treating their children the same way their own parents treated them – pushing instead of presenting education to children. Teachers should seek to grow in their profession by mastering the art and science of learning about pedagogy through first-hand experiences of learners, instead of constantly testing the effectiveness of theories and/or principles learned at teacher training college using students as their subjects.

When the attitude of parents and teachers toward education change, children will experience minimum cognitive dissonance about learning and become convinced about the need for a good education.

Designing a positive classroom climate

While most teachers would think that their primary duty is to deliver contents as specified in the curriculum, some understand the value of slowing down and spending time in planning and designing a classroom climate that is conducive to learning. This is especially true if a teacher is new to the profession, which is mostly the case in international schools in Thailand. Adults coming into the teaching profession from various other backgrounds of work tend to take this simple, yet significant factor for granted. Most adults getting into the teaching profession wrongly thinking that “teaching” is the only thing expected of them in the classroom. Before long, they realize that teaching is just one of the many things teachers are responsible for. There are other more important things that teachers do and are expected to do in order to be effective disseminators of knowledge/skills.

Difference in expectation

Because of the nature of their previous jobs, adults who newly come into the teaching profession tend to view working in a school similar to working in a corporate sector. While there are definite similarities, the overall culture and function of a school is different from that of commercial ones. For example, productivity in a factory is more concretely measurable (in the rate and quality of production) than productivity of staff or students (ambiguous measures of performances) in a school. Additionally, the importance placed on human interactions could be minimal if not completely absent in a factory setting. This is not the case in a school, where its success or failure is founded upon the quality of interactions among members of its constituency.

Bridging the gap in practice

One of the greatest challenges faced by an adult undertaking teaching for the first time in his or her career history is dealing with the complexities and idiosyncrasies of interactions in the classroom. If children were robots, they could be easily programmed to behave in a certain way to pay undivided attention to a teacher. However, since teachers deal with human children who are different, unique, and lively, teaching has to be put in the context of social-emotional dynamics. Thus, apart from teaching a subject, teachers engineer (design) the social-emotional climate of their classes to ensure effective learning. In essence, this requires every teacher – experienced or inexperience, trained or untrained – to be aware of the psychology and sociology of human interactions. Effective teachers use this knowledge, along with an understanding of child and adolescent development to create positive classroom climate.

Definition

According to Richard and Patricia Schmuck, the authors of Group processes in the classroom, classroom climate is defined as, “the emotional tones associated with informal interaction, attitudinal responses to the group, and to both the self-concepts of students and their motivational satisfactions and frustrations.” In other words, teachers are constantly responding to the different social-emotional needs of students, as reflected in their attitudes and behavior toward self and others. Additionally, the quality of social-emotional experiences in the classroom determines the breadth and depth of learning. Managing and constructively channeling these informal interactions and the subsequent attitudinal and behavioral vacillations constitute a teacher’s primary task. These includes, but are not limited to, taking care of the physical movements, bodily gestures, seating arrangements, and patterns of verbal and non-verbal communication.

Positive classroom climate

A positive classroom climate is characterized by students who support one another, share high amounts of potential influence with one another and teacher, experience high levels of interaction, function by norms that are supportive of getting academic work done, recognize and respect individual differences, dialogue openly and genuinely, and deal constructively with conflicts. The outcome of such a climate guarantees the accomplishment of common goals, fosters positive self-esteem and feeling of security, allows for shared influenced and high involvement in academic learning, and ensures high degree of healthy interactions with one another.

On the other hand, a negative classroom climate is characterized by competition, alienation, and hostility that leads to anxiety, discomfort, and intellectual deprivation.

The following could be done by teachers to ensure a positive classroom climate:

1. Come before the class

2. Stay after the class

3. Talk to students

4. Tell in advance if you are rushing and if you are not available to talk to students

5. Make yourself available

6. Provide Safe environment for participation
•Don’t attack!
•Don’t ridicule!
•Mediate when students attack each other

7. Communicate expectations (for academic and non-academic tasks) early and clearly!

8. Provide a non-threatening physical setting (seating) – regularly changing seating arrangement is recommended

9. Be sensitive to individual difference

10. Learn students’ names and call them by their names!!!

11. Encourage your students

Sustaining passion for teaching

It is said that the first three years of marriage is the most beautiful, after which couples tend to lose their “first love.” Usually, marriages hit a wall after the third year, especially if the first three years were unpleasant. This phenomenon is also seen in workers, who tend to experience burnout after three years of working in a particular profession. Teachers are not exempted from this effect. Most often, teachers who start out with enthusiasm and passion for teaching become disheartened in less than three years.

Loss of passion

A variety of factors account for the decline in level of enthusiasm among teachers. Young teachers start out in the profession wanting to make a difference. They are gung ho about giving the best, diversified instruction, managing students’ behavior in non-threatening manner, using assessment results to improve student achievement, and engaging in life-long learning to improve teaching. These are the ingredients that make up for successful teaching, that directly and positively impact student learning. However, teachers tend to gradually lose their initial beliefs about and passion for the profession as they continue in the school system.

Primary cause

First and foremost, this is due to the fact that schools curb teacher autonomy. Although teachers are considered to be professionals, they are hardly treated like one. Teachers do not have the independence of determining what is educationally sound for their students.

In many countries, the National Curricula are developed by a group of geniuses in complete isolation from the social and emotional realities of how teachers teach and how students learn. Teachers are required to follow and complete the curriculum within a specified time, which further increases stress at work. Instead of providing meaningful contents and skills that are founded upon the needs, strengths and passion of individual students, teachers resentfully disseminate “empty” knowledge that is prescribed by curriculum designers.

Apart from the lack of autonomy in determining the contents taught, teachers are also required to teach using prescribed teaching methods. For example, when the concept of learning styles was popularized, teachers were required to be trained in the use of different teaching strategies to cater to different learning styles of students, only to be told by researchers that measuring and identifying learning styles would be psychometrically flawed. Additionally, psychologists also argue that humans use a variety of modalities to learn and never stick to any one learning style.

The same was seen when the concept, “meta-cognition” was introduced. Lots of money and time were spent in training teachers to teach meta-cognition; however, the term was overused until it became a cliché.

Consequences

Teachers who are stripped off their sense of autonomy to carry out professional tasks through the micromanagement of higher authorities feel “proletarianised”, de-professionalised, de-skilled and sometimes demoralized. As a result, disillusionment sets in; the level of commitment to the profession of teaching deteriorates. This explains why many teachers start off very excited about teaching and become completely disappointed with the profession.

Reviving passion

When people go to a medical doctor, they listen to the doctor’s diagnosis of the illness and accept whatever prescription given. Unfortunately, teachers (who are also professionals in teaching) are not treated this way. Hence, instead of listening, society prescribes to teachers what they need to do. This continues to de-motivate and discourage them.

One of the best ways to keep teachers enthusiastic about teaching is to give them opportunities to be actively involved in school matters. Teachers should be empowered to determine their own (educationally-sound) decisions and actions. They should do so by utilizing their highest creative prowess as educators. In other words, teachers must be allowed to be the professionals they are supposed to be.

“Good teachers are born; great teachers are made; extraordinary teachers are inspired!”

Mindset

Do you wonder why parents of primary school children are eager to brag about their children’s academic performances (“My son got A’s in Math, Language Arts, and Science”) while parents of middle and high school kids prefer to be silent about their children’s performances at school? Why does the eagerness with which parents share their children’s successes at school dwindle as they get older and move into middle and high school? A variety of answers are possible, but the major cause for this has to do with how intelligence, learning, and motivation are viewed.

Old paradigm

We start off life full of curiosity. We wonder why, ask a variety of questions, and engage in purposeful investigation of the world around us to know more about everything. Somehow as children, we believed that there was no limit to how much we could learn and absorb. However, as we got older, adults introduce us to the concept of smart vs. stupid. Suddenly, we are required to conform to the popular belief that people can be categorized as intelligent, average, and dumb, and that they remain the same throughout life. Sadly, this paradigm influences how schools and the systems therein operate, even today.

Once labeled, people tend to think, feel, and behave in accordance to the expectations imposed on them (self-fulfilling prophecy in action). Hence, by the time children get into middle and high school, they are convinced that their intelligence is set – and it is impossible to change. This is why many children who possess excellent academic record during primary school fail to achieve the same type of excellence by the time they get into middle and high school. Their mindset (belief about intelligent) become their greatest enemy and they find themselves trapped in unhealthy thoughts about themselves and how their brains work.

Fixed vs. growth mindset

Psychology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues have conducted extensive research in understanding how mindset (belief about intelligence and how the brain really works) affects motivation, academic performance, and a host of other factors that contribute toward excellence in school and life.

In one of their experiments, Dr. Dweck and her associates designed an eight-week intervention program that taught some junior high school students study skills and how they could learn to develop their intelligence – describing the brain as a muscle that became stronger the more it was used. A control group also learned study skills but they were not taught Dr. Dweck’s expandable theory of intelligence. In just two months, the students from the first group, compared to the control group, showed marked improvement in grades and study habits.

According to Dr. Dweck, students who were energized by the idea that they could have an impact on their mind and its growth were highly motivated. These students possess the growth mindset (belief that neurons in the brain continue to make new connections – hence learning makes one smart-er regardless of past academic records). Internal motivation to study harder and better is significantly higher in these students compared to their counterparts (those with fixed mindset who believe that intelligence is set and learning doesn’t help change anything).

It was also found that students with growth mindset had a very straightforward (and correct) idea of effort – “the harder you work, the more ability will grow; even geniuses have had to work hard for their accomplishments.” On the other hand, students with the fixed mindset believe that if you work hard, it meant that you didn’t have ability, and that things would just come naturally to you if you did.

Application

Growth mindset motivates both teachers and students to hold a more optimistic attitude toward learning and intelligence. Schools should eradicate the fixed mindset from its operational philosophies and inspire every student to achieve the best he/she could by sincerely examining and working toward fulfilling his/her true potential. This is possible when our belief about intelligence, learning, and motivation changes!