I’m currently on teacher trainee placement and am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Each day is another series of transactions where both teachers and students help me to bring the theories and techniques in my head to life . Today however was a moment where I let it all stop and just listened.
I have a particular class that over the past few weeks I have visibly seen the levels of anxiety rise as deadlines loom. The dynamic in the class has been taken up a notch and suddenly all students have been overcome with helplessness. Both my Associate Teacher and I have worked together to put structure into place and guided students to be managing their time effectively. All of this has resulted in lots of talking. Lots and lots. Quickly followed by a bombardment of one-on-one questions in panicky tones. Over the last few lessons I attempted to calm students and guide them to their own answers – only for the panic to remain and the frustration to rise. They just wanted me to tell them exactly what to do, essentially take all control of their work.
I remembered seeing this TEDtalk by Barry Schwartz about the Paradox of choice and then it clicked. I realised that they weren’t used to the level of control that they had been given and were exercising helplessness in an attempt to gain the answers necessary to move on. And looking back over the week I wonder how much I had unknowingly fed into this.
So today I stopped talking and started listening. When a panicky question came my way I simply rephrased the students question back to them and then waited. Waited for them to answer themselves. At times it took a while, for some students it took quite a while but I stood my ground and aimed for consistency. And it worked. But, not only did it work, but then it created some of the best conversations between students that I’ve heard. Unprompted, other students would offer suggestions and extend ideas. I stood, nodded and listened.
So I’ve come to the realisation that being present does mean I need to speak and that sometimes just being there is support for students. By keeping my input at a minimum and giving students the time and space to think out loud students were able to find their own answers through dialogue with their peers.
Image credit: William Brawley