Is there a ‘right’ way to teach or to parent children? Is there a ‘right’ way to lead a school or organisation? Is there a ‘right’ way to be a friend or colleague?
No. (Life would be so easy if there was.)
But there are wrong ways. It is wrong to parent with abuse. It is wrong to lead with corruption. It is wrong to manipulate friends and colleagues with fear.
And there are wrong ways to teach. Whilst good and great teachers often have very different styles and commonly embrace their varied idiosyncrasies, there are three things that should never, ever occur in any classroom:
- Intentional humiliation or shaming of a student. This causes so much harm, including to the embarrassed student, to class cohesion, and to the students’ and parents’ respect of the teacher. This is a lose-lose-lose scenario. It is never justifiable.
- Giving up on a student. Teachers are trained professionals whose job it is to unconditionally nurture and seek the best in every child. It is particularly at the most difficult times, with the most challenging students, that we must model hope.
- Speaking badly about one student or one group of students to another. This is a form of disloyalty that is not only entirely unprofessional but will inevitably get back to the original student or group and erode trust and relationships further.
Teaching is a highly demanding profession. We will make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, understandable, and forgivable. But the above are not.
In pretty much every country around the world, there is a road rule that compels drivers to pull over or move out of the way of an approaching emergency ambulance. There are, usually, very strict penalties for those who fail to comply. But these penalties are almost completely redundant. Why? Well, has this thought ever crossed your mind: ‘Ah, there’s an ambulance coming up behind me with its lights flashing. I’d better pull aside because I fear I might get a $400 fine.’ No. You have never had that thought. You’re not afraid of the penalty. You pull over and follow the road rule because it’s a good rule! You want to follow the rule, regardless of the potential fine. It’s a rule that makes sense. And so we act autonomously, of our own volition to follow the rule.
This sense of volition, of adhering to a regulation, norm, parameter, or rule voluntarily – even when we don’t control the rule itself – is one of the fundamental components of intrinsic human motivation.
Nearly 50 years of research into student motivation has identified that a sense of autonomy is a universal psychological need that has a powerful impact on learning and social outcomes. Importantly, autonomy is not about independence or freedom. In fact, the most effective classroom environments are those that are highly structured and highly autonomous. In other words, great teachers set up tight parameters, and clear values and behavioural expectations. And the students endorse these boundaries with their inherent, ‘natural’ behaviours. They follow the rules because they like them and because they make sense…just like the ambulance rule.
Is it predominantly fear or volition that motivates people in your environment to follow the rules?