Wrongs of innocence and experience

1st January 2016 at 00:00
Five tips to help you guard against fixed thinking and professional complacency

A point comes in every teacher’s career when you think you’ve cracked it. The classes that you found daunting become controllable, the marking workload is manageable and there is a grudging acceptance that the senior management team is not your sworn nemesis. Unfortunately, experienced practitioners then have a new problem to deal with: the dangers of fixed thinking.

Sometimes, experience comes with a jaded mindset that can bring lazy assumptions to our work. Here is a list of five pitfalls that experienced teachers can fall into, along with some solutions on how to keep your mental approach to the job fresh.

1 Confirmation bias

This is otherwise known as believing what we already think. It is easy, after many years of practice, to believe that what you have always done is the right way of doing something. We tend to have trouble believing evidence that challenges this. Yet we have to make an effort to force ourselves out of this mode of thinking. Ensure you surround yourself with teachers with different approaches to your own, and challenge yourself to take their ideas and use them. Always sound ideas off that diverse group, too. Avoid doing anything automatically.

2 Hierarchical thinking

This is when we blithely pass responsibility of a problem further up the hierarchy, assuming a solution will be forthcoming, rather than considering that a senior position does not equate with an ability to resolve everything. Next time you are about to pass a problem up the chain, stop yourself and try and work out a solution first. You could even converse with students to see if they have any ideas to help.

3 Fixation error

This is where we keep on following the same process even though it has become clear that it is no longer working. It is very easy as a confident teacher to blame the kids rather than yourself when something goes wrong and stick rigidly to favourite lesson plans. You need to always keep in mind that students are all individuals and that if something goes awry it is likely your fault, not theirs.

4 Outcome bias

A favourite: we ignore small issues with our teaching as long as the result is successful. I know of an established teacher in another school who has taught exactly the same novel, play and poems to his senior class for more than a decade, dictating the same notes to the pupils. His notes are great and he teaches these texts really well, but what could he achieve if he catered more to the changes in young people and our greater knowledge about how people learn? True, he gets great results, but he could get exceptional ones. If this sounds like you and your teaching, try challenging yourself to change things up.

5 Default mode

During quiet days, am I alone in sometimes thinking it would be good if the pupils’ started acting up? Nothing too serious – just a little to break the monotony? It happens when my mind has slipped into default mode – which could be called daydreaming mode. This can have serious consequences for car drivers and airline pilots – it is not ideal for educators either, as a daydreaming teacher can’t be good for the active minds in front of us. If you catch yourself thinking this way, it is time to change your approach to freshen things up.

What else?





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