This was the final, summative assessment for this topic. I found the entire module highly engaging and valuable to my teaching journey. I cannot speak highly enough of the faulty staff in this topic and the content. This has, for me, been one of the most valuable, and surprisingly emotional topics I have undertaken during my degree so far; I feel I have gained significant insight and believe this attitude is reflected in my final paper reflecting on my experience.
I view my personal dilemma of practice in a number of different ways as a result of my understanding across the educational topic Relationships for Learning. The dilemma involved a music teacher using performance arts as a mode for punishing students for classroom behaviours, a teacher who was failing to connect with students and engage them, and ultimately, a teacher who was causing his students to feel a sense of failure and negativity towards their learning. Through exploration of the core components of Relationships for Learning, and the research of relevant literature, my understanding of the dilemma has shifted to include the perspectives of all parties involved; It has also brought to light other elements at play on a deeper level, such as the teacher acting as a bully, and the implications of the dilemma for my own teaching practice, particularly in terms of punishment and consequences. While my understanding has shifted in certain ways to accommodate a broader view of the dilemma, ultimately I have found my original perspective has been reinforced and consolidated throughout my learning journey. It can be acknowledged that, although I have come to consider the scenario in a more holistic way, I still identify that the core issue underpinning the dilemma is a lack of vital relationships for constructive learning.
In writing my dilemma story I had a strong initial view point in terms of how I perceived the teacher in question, and the way I responded emotionally to his actions. Initially, I felt a great deal of passion, in the sense that I demonised the teacher, and painted the students, myself as a pre-service teacher and witness, and the art form of music as the unwilling victims of his tyranny. The central understanding was that the teacher was failing to adopt a humanist attitude towards students, and was essentially using performance as a device to punish the class. It was stated in the dilemma story that “he [the teacher] had a poor attitude towards the students”. The view point I held was heavily focused on the students and their responses to the teacher, primarily through comments such as “they [the students] felt the teacher was too strict”. My understanding was structured around the idea that public shame and punishment was not benefitting the learning experiences, or the wellbeing of the children in any way. This is reinforced by Shindler (2010), who remarks:
the deliberate use of punishment presumes that enough pain administered to a student will result in the student’s behavior change…[however] punishment does not do a very good job of teaching lessons…[and]introducing more pain in to the equation of a class environment inevitably creates a ripple effect that will manifest itself. (p. 22)
Essentially, in reflecting on the dilemma, I was of the firm belief that the teacher was solely to blame for the sense of disconnect in the classroom, and for the poor outcomes of the students through his use of threats and public punishments.
Over the course of studying relationships and behaviours, I have come to the realisation that it is vital to consider the diverse perspectives of those effected by the dilemma, and in particular to shift from a sense of blame to a sense of responsibility. Shindler (2010) notes that “our minds, in desire of relief from discomfort, become skilled at the practice of denial, making excuses, shifting responsibility, and taking on role of the victim” (p. 192). As a result of identifying responsibility for affirmative action, it is essential to consider the position of all participants directly involved -namely the students and the teacher himself, as well as the perspectives of those indirectly involved, such as the classroom teacher, school administration, and families. The dilemma was written with the student perspective at the forefront, however, in taking in to account the teacher’s perspective we must regard him first, and foremost, as a human being. In doing this, a number of questions are brought to one’s attention, for example ‘what may be going on in the personal life of this teacher to cause a flow-on effect in the classroom?’.
Consider the concept of emotional labour. Alicia Grandey (2000) defines emotional labour as “an employee changing how she feels, or what feelings she shows, in order to interact with customers or clients in an effective way” (2000, p. 95). Grandey (2000) describes emotional labour as modifying, suppressing or enhancing expressions of emotion in order to reflect qualities appropriate to a diverse range of jobs (p. 95). Emotional labour is the commodification of emotion, which is invaluable in the classroom environment. Shindler (2010) notes that “negativity begets negativity… in a class where the teacher uses a great deal of negativity… you will feel the negative climate” (p. 354). This places further value on the ability of projecting positive emotions to create a proportionally positive classroom culture. However, in considering the teacher as a human being, with his own set of unique traits and emotions, it can be identified that if the teacher was experiencing extensive personal challenges, the ability to alter the associated emotions may become increasingly difficult for that individual, and could be reflected in his teaching practice. This is one of the many ways in which I have come to understand the value in considering different perspectives in challenging situations.
Other perspectives to be considered are those of the school, the classroom teacher, and most significantly the parents and families of the students involved. Jillian Huntley emphasises the value of relationships with parents, and suggests that the fundamental element to building positive working relationships is through communication (Personal communication, lecturer EDUC3620 Workshop, November 14th 2013). Throughout my experience of the dilemma there was a severe lack of communication between the music teacher, the classroom teacher, and the families of the students involved. When parents were contacted there was a unanimous sense of frustration, in that they had not been informed at an earlier date, at a time when there was more opportunity for intervention and problem solving. In considering the perspectives of the parents, it is vital to understand that the success and wellbeing of their child is the driving motivation for their actions and emotions. Burrows (2004) argues that “the effects of emotions and feelings may account for a great deal of the difficulties many parents of children with a disability or difficulty find when attempting to communicate with school personnel” (p. 12). When analysing the perspectives of parents in relation to the described dilemma, we must consider their feelings and emotions in advocating for their children. There is a great emphasis on how communication with parents enables family members to take responsibility for themselves and their child, and to work proactively with teachers to address any underlying issues. My initial viewpoint across the dilemma was one in which the students were victims, and the teacher the villain. Through my understanding of relationships, I have come to the conclusion that this dichotomy does not give a complete picture of the classroom at work, but rather that there needs to be a synthesis between all perspectives, giving a holistic and broad view of the situation.
My view of the dilemma has changed in particular, in terms of how I would approach the situation in my own teaching practice. I am drawn to the idea of punishment versus consequence. Shindler (2010) defines punishment as “an external intervention that is intended to give discomfort for the purpose of payback or out of the belief that it will change behavior” (p. 162), and further suggests that “there are no natural or logical punishments” (p. 162). That is to say, punishment is a reactive response to actions and behaviours that does not relate to the behaviour itself. Contrastingly, the use of consequences relies on students taking responsibility for their choices, and creates direct links between behaviours and the resulting outcomes. Shindler (2010) summarises that “consequences build responsibility in students” (p. 163), and identifies that “children who are fed a steady diet of punishments (especially guilt, shame, and lectures) do not learn responsibility because the locus of control in punishment is external and responsibility comes from an internal locus of control” (p. 163). The purpose of this remark is to establish that students can only take responsibility for themselves when there is a clear correlation between their actions, and the consequential outcomes of those actions. In reflecting on my dilemma of practice, I can identify that the teacher was using specific punishments, rather than consequences to achieve short-term behavioural outcomes; this concept has great meaning for my own future teaching practice, as the weaknesses of using punishments is distinctly observable throughout the dilemma.
My practice is also influenced by my growing understanding of the concept of communication, between teacher and student, with parents, and between teachers. Burrows (2013) states that “positive communication between parents and teachers is an important element in schooling for children and young people” (p. 13). Similarly, Shindler (2010) identifies that students will respond to teachers who communicate with them and are invested in them personally and their interests beyond the classroom (p. 115). A fundamental flaw in the teaching approach used by the educator in my dilemma was his lack of communication, and ultimately his disinterest in the diversity and uniqueness of his students. There are a number of ways in which the Relationships for Learning topic and associated research has influenced my understanding of my personal dilemma, in particular the vital nature of consequences over punishment, and the importance of communication.
While considering the perspectives of all involved has been a vitally significant experience for me, after conducting research and developing my personal knowledge bank, I have come to the conclusion that the essence of my initial viewpoint is reflected in my current understanding: that at the heart of the dilemma there was ultimately a lack of fundamental relationships. My growing understanding has reinforced my original belief that strong bonds, particularly between teacher and student, are absolutely crucial to the success of the classroom. Shindler (2010) notes:
relationships are at the heart of the 1-style [self-directed] classroom, and they begin with the teacher’s emotional investment… your ability to develop a community, a psychology of success, and outcomes that would qualify as transformative will be dependent on your ability to show that you have a genuine positive regard for your students and that you believe in them. (p. 114)
In analysing my personal understanding of the dilemma, I have found myself questioning the teacher’s practice and classroom management, as well as his skills in relating to students. My own teaching philosophy adopts elements of the humanist school of thought, in which theorists – predominantly Maslow – suggest that the basic needs of students as human beings must be considered as the utmost priority for educators (Romig & Cleland, 1972, p. 289). Romig and Cleland (1972) note that “the safety need is sometimes ignored when a child is expelled from the classroom, which creates insecurity in the entire class” (p. 291), and go on to argue that the “group morale can be destroyed when even one child is asked to leave” (p. 291). Romig and Cleland’s argument reinforces my own understanding that the teacher in question was unable to meet the basic needs of students, and again, was failing to relate to them as individuals.
In some ways, I have come to consider the teacher an exhibitor of bully-like behaviour. Zerillo and Osterman (2011) suggest that there is often teacher-student bullying occurring in schools, both physically and psychologically (p. 240). They argue that sadistic bullying involves a number of behaviours from teachers including “repeatedly punishing the same child, humiliating students to stop disruption, being defensive about teaching style, being spiteful to students or hurting their feelings,[and] setting students up to be bullied by peers” (p.240). These behaviours are all demonstrated in the actions of the teacher in my dilemma, which could potentially have been prevented if the teacher were to have constructed a positive classroom environment for the students, and built long-term relationships with his class. In my developing teaching philosophy, I have established the understanding of how vital relationships across the school environment are, between teachers, students, parents and the broader school community.
In conclusion, there are a number of ways in which I view my dilemma of practice differently, and also a number of ways that my initial perspective has been reinforced. In considering multiple viewpoints, I am of the belief that I now have a more holistic and objective understanding of the dilemma. My view of the teacher has shifted in certain ways, in the sense that I originally identified him as an aggressor and villain, and while I still consider that his behaviour reflects that of a teacher-bully, I have come to the realisation that it is essential to consider the motivation behind those actions. My personal teaching practice will be greatly influenced by my understanding across the Relationships for Learning topic, in terms of constructing a transformative, 1-style classroom, with student-centred, student-directed learning; this type of classroom has a foundation in positive, constructive relationships which are crucial in the growth and wellbeing of the students, and of the teacher. In reflecting on my dilemma of practice I have also developed a broad understanding of the value of consequences over punishment in a productive, well-managed classroom. Ultimately, the insight gained has reinforced the core idea that relationships are the basis necessary for any and every learning experience, and that these solid community bonds are the vital essence of a transformative classroom environment.
Burrows, L. (2004). Compassionate communication with parents of children and young people with learning disabilities, Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 9 (4), 12-20. doi: 10.1080/19404150409546775
Grandey, A. (2000). Emotion regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labour. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(1), 95-110. doi: 10.1037/1076-89220.127.116.11
Romid, D., & Cleland, C. C. (1972). Educational applications of humanistic psychology. Journal of Psychology, 10 (3), 289-298.
Shindler, J. (2010). Transformative classroom management: Positive strategies to engage all students and promote a psychology of success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Teacher.
Zerillo, C., & Osterman, K. F. (2011). Teacher perceptions of teacher bullying. Improving Schools, 14 (3), 239-257. doi: 10.1177/1365480206061994