Thursday, 22 December 2011

Reflection: We All Need a Role-Model

I went on my first placement recently. It was absolutely amazing and, to my delight and relief, it resolutely confirmed my choice of career. My favourite part was the time I spent with the students, which fortunately as a student-teacher is often one-on-one or within a small group. Getting to know them was great and I think one of the most important features of a teacher is their ability to form knowledgeable and constructive (not best friend but friendly) relationships with their students. I also think the teacher acts as a critical role-model for students, which is not by any means a ground-breaking theory.

Looking deeper into this modelling behaviour concept, I was nevertheless astounded the extent to which teachers can influence children by doing rather than saying. For example, if a teacher frequently silently reads their own novel during independent reading time - rather than doing admin tasks or individual assessments - studies have shown the average student focus level on their own book increases from around 60% to 85%. Therefore, for some activities, it may be worthwhile for us to actually do the task ourselves (rather than roaming the room) and produce the kind of quality work we are looking for from our students.

Related to this, another thing I did not expect which I learnt from my own placement but even more so by comparing the stories of my peers on their placements, is the scale of influence a principal can have on school culture. Obviously as the head of the school, a principal is powerful. But their mannerisms, moods and general disposition seems to be a huge influence on that of the staff. For example, one of my peers visited a school where the principal was ALWAYS smiling, asking people how they were, talking about their weekends, families and holiday plans with them, etc. My peer reported that the school was the most cheerful one she could ever have imagined and the flow-on effects were not just to the teachers but also to the kids.

In contrast, other stories from peers reported a school with a principal who had lost their passion and, many staff thought, was no longer fit for a classroom let alone a leadership position. This principal would always say the right things about getting the school to be a happy and safe place for children and so on, but her actions said the exact opposite and, consciously or subconsciously, everyone sensed that. The school was full to the brim with staff who displayed negativity, resistance to any changes whatsoever and general grumpiness. Teachers shouted at the top of their lungs and embarrassed students in front of their peers with statements like "You really are that stupid!" as a supposed form of feedback.

Whether we think so or not, we all need role-models; not just our students but also us as teachers. Often, doing is much more powerful than saying and, in both our teaching and our influence to the school culture generally, we need to remember that.

Is your school's culture as influenced by your leadership teams as the schools in this post?

What are some examples of ways we can act as positive role-models for our students and general school community?


Beth Cregan said...

Hi Anna,
Welcome to the world of teaching ( and learning). One way I encourage my students to write is by sitting down with them and writing as well as sharing my writing. It makes such a difference to their willingness to workshop their ideas. The trick is to work alongside them and model the process. If I want my kids to take a risk, I have to be prepared to take one too.

Anna Kapnoullas said...

Hi Beth,

That is a perfect example of what I was referring to and would want to do as a teacher. It would also give you great insights into the challenges involved in the tasks you set and what it is like to be a learner.

Thanks for the idea,