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FREW Consultants Group        
Tuesday, February 26 2019

Creativity

Creativity is recognised as the essential quality our students should have when they graduate from all of our tertiary institutions.  So, it follows that schools should be ‘teaching’ this characteristic.  This is not lost on our masters and the development of creativity is mandated in our National Curriculum and reiterated in almost every vision statement associated with schooling.  Even the Gonski Report emphasised the importance of this in our schools and so we should provide lessons that lead to the acquisition of an education that produces creative thinkers.

This importance placed on creativity is because it is identified as the driver for change in a world where the rate of environmental transformation is increasing at an almost exponential rate.  It is generally accepted that unless we change our industrialised approach to providing for our populations we will face the inevitable collapse of our planet.

Before we address the provision of ‘curriculum for creativity’, let’s investigate what we mean by ‘creativity’.  Like most concepts, when you look for a definition you are faced with a multitude of explanations and creativity is no different.  To simplify each definition emphasises that to be creative in any new development should provide a unique way of interpreting our environment (I have loaded a Chapter, ‘Teaching Creativity’ from my book ‘Insights into the Modern Classroom – The Getting of Wisdom for Teachers’ in the resource section of our Web Page).

We also need to define what type of creativity we are discussing.  James C Kaufman of the University of Connecticut described four forms of creativity, ‘Mini C, Little C, Pro C and Big C.  The first three describe a continuum from critical thinking to people who work in the creative fields, comedians, musicians, those who are vocationally creative but not necessarily eminent.  However, it is the Big C definition that is generally accepted as being the goal of creativity that changes the world and this is at the heart of this work.

However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what is ‘creativity’ and what is just ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’.  The mix-up is best observed in the latest emphasis on the STEM approach to learning (project based learning focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths), this is where schools consider they address the issue of creativity.  The combined approach encourages the use of ideas from a mix of precepts to synthesise a ‘better’ outcome for a design brief.  This critical problem solving, in the main is just a more sophisticated organisation of existing knowledge and is not technically creative.  This is not to depreciate this work but it is not really creativity and if we continue to use this approach to the world’s problems we will end up with a much more effective, streamlined, wrong answer to our problems, the inevitable failure will just be ‘more efficient’.

This confusion is seen throughout much of the literature around this subject.  The first of the educational reformers was Ken Robinson whose TED talk on creative education is one of the most watched in that series.  The most recent pundit is Davis Eagleman who, along with his musical friend Anthony Brand wrote the best-selling book ‘The Runaway Species – How Human Creativity Remakes the World’. The central premise is that we must take existing practices to solve problems and ‘bend them, break them or blend them’ to achieve new solutions.  The bending or blending holds for critical thinking but what does breaking them achieve?  Probably no more than putting us back to square one, we still have a problem.

So, how do we achieve new creative ideas that by definition are different from existing knowledge when all we have at our disposal is that existing knowledge?  In the essay I have provided, you will find a detailed description of the neuroscience involved in creative thought but for this work it is best explained as some phenomena that takes place when implicit memories, those unintentional, emotional and unconscious memories are combined with those explicit memories, conscious recollections.

Graham Wallis, the founder of the London School of Economics described this subtle difference between critical thinking and creativity back in 1926 with his five-step model.  Without going into detail, he described the process as first immersing yourself in the problem, looking at all the details and possible solutions.  Then, and this is the movement into the creative approach you ‘incubate’ all you have found.  Now you leave the solution to your unconscious mind to make unique and often exceptional connections between all memories, implicit or explicit without the interference of our taught-thinking processes.  Finally, that creative solution will emerge in some ‘aha’ moment, those ‘moments’ that have been celebrated since Archimedes cried out eureka when he solved a problem about fluid dynamics while sitting in his bath.  History is full of such moments (again I refer you to the essay in our resource page.

This use of our memories has continued on and the Explicit – Implicit Interaction (EII) is a current popular model.  To summarise what you need is a challenge, then a long period of time to really personally examine all aspects of this problem.  This gathering of data will underpin the emergent answer and importantly this data must be stored in your memory not in a smart phone or computer (there is another whole argument about artificial intelligence and creativity but that’s for another time).  Then you must ‘let go’ of the control of the search for a solution and your mind may provide you with that creative ‘aha moment’.

Now, how do we teach creativity in our schools?  There is no surprise regarding the clash between what our political masters desire, creative graduates and what they demand from our schools.  The current educational model is dominated by outcomes based learning.  Our syllabuses are highly prescriptive leaving little room for divergence.  It is so crowded there is no time for deep consideration.  Teachers can’t wait for the incubation of a creative idea. 

Coupled with this is the current obsession with standardised testing both of students and teachers.  The former have their regular numeracy and literacy inspections while the teachers are ‘performance analysed’, based on their students’ results forcing them to ‘teach to the test’; to ensure they are just like everyone else.  This emphasis on reaching ‘milestones’ is a barrier to creativity.

The answer is not easy, creativity is an emergent quality that comes from individuals who see a problem.  What we can do is provide all our students with the abundant learning environment that includes exposure to as diverse a curriculum as possible making sure those ‘implicit’ subjects from the arts are given equal billing. 

Along with this ignite their curiosity and encourage their uniqueness and give them time to ponder.  The hardest thing to do when seeking creativity is to let go of control.  That applies to the individual seeking that break-through or the bureaucrats who want their people to be creative.

Posted by: AT 04:31 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 18 2019

Empathy

If you ask a group of educators, from any sector what is the most important feature of successful teacher/student interaction invariably you get the answer relationships.  And I would agree.  However, personal relationships are hard work even when both parties are committed to having such a connection.  It is a challenge when the relationship you need is between a teacher and an angry, oppositional student.  It is obvious that it will be up to that teacher to build that relationship, not only is that connection a prerequisite for engagement, how else are they going to participate, it really is an ethical duty.

Relationships depend on two central abilities, the first is the capacity to communicate, the second is the ability to experience empathy for that student.  Relationships, communication and empathy all take place in the intersubjective space between the teacher and the student; the point where both party’s feelings and beliefs overlap while they encounter a shared situation.  The quality of this interaction depends on the teacher’s capability to empathize with the student and to understand the student’s interpretation of the event.  It is not the student’s responsibility to make this happen.

If you go looking for a definition of empathy you will be inundated with numerous responses.  Within all this is the idea that it is the ability to predict and experience, on a personal level how another individual feels and thinks about a shared situation.  As with all ‘behaviour’ empathy is learned through our drive to improve our survival or reproduction.  It is perhaps the most sophisticated form of social/emotional intelligence that equips you to navigate collective communications and get our needs met.

Empathy is first learned as an infant and it is no surprise that the earliest experience is in the eyes of a mother. A newborn’s field of vision is limited but it caters for the child to ‘see’ their mother’s eyes; in most cases the overwhelming love felt for a baby will gaze down.  And so, it is the non-verbal communication learned in early childhood that holds the key to the development of empathy. 

First the eyes, then the facial expression and posture.  This conveys so much of the emotional content of our communication.  Along with this is the tone of voice, cracking before tears or becoming edgy as we become annoyed.  In a nurturing environment, the consistency between the non-verbal cues and the reality of the communication allows the child to grow into an empathetic adult.

In an early Newsletter (28th August 2018 – ‘Accept their lack of Empathy – Just for Now’) I explained that these children with severe behaviours lack empathy.  Unlike those children mentioned above, these kids never experienced that consistent affection and care, they were denied the constant connection between life situations and emotional responses; they never learned to accurately predict.

So how do we build that relationship and subsequently build an ability for the child to empathize?  It is important that you understand that in that intersubjective space between you and the student is a power imbalance that favours the teacher and this must be acknowledged.  The teacher has control of this space and they must use that capacity to provide the conditions within that space to nurture the child.

That space must be safe, friendly and predictable, the conditions that allow trust to emerge. It is only when the space is reassuring, the teacher gains an understanding of the child’s intellectual and social functions, the student trusts the teacher and so teaching/learning can take place.

Although you are the ‘expert’ in the relationship it is important to remember that it is a shared experience.  The connection between you will be strengthened the more the child is allowed to actively participate.  How they do this is difficult as both you and the child really understand the power imbalance.  However, there will be some areas where the child ‘knows things’ you don’t.  If you seek to uncover their expertise and learn about it, the child will be more willing to engage with you.  When we know this about the space it becomes easier to move on to new concepts or ideas.

In any situation, along with power comes responsibility.  It is easy to become complacent about empathy or difficult to feel empathy towards a severely disruptive student.  To avoid this failure to connect we can employ that most critical teaching technique of being predictable and consistent.  The damage is done when we either fail to reinforce a connection between an action and a consequence or we become angry and/or unpredictable in our conduct. 

As it is at the point of connection, the intersubjective space where failure occurs it makes sense that to avoid this breakdown you can apply the technique of retaining effective boundaries.  Remember boundaries are synonymous with the intersubjective space.

These are outlined is the Newsletter (31st July 2017 – Teaching Practical Boundaries) and the steps are outlined to:

  • Stay calm – While you, the teacher remains calm you remain in the psychological state that most allows you to make good decisions.
  • Ask yourself – what is really happening’?  The child’s motivation behind a child’s behaviour is not often transparent.  An empathetic teacher will be informed about their students’ histories and understand how this will influence their response to the presenting situation.
    • Understanding that you have the power in the relationship and that you are imperfect, you need to be sure you have not created the conflict.  If you have, you must accept your liability and change your behaviour.
    • If it is the child’s dysfunctional behaviour that has caused the problem them by understanding the driving force behind their disruptive conduct it is easier to maintain a sense of empathy towards them and retain that feeling of calm required to make proper decisions.  If this is the case you need to decide what you want from them in the long term and what you need to do to get this.

If things are deteriorating and you are confronted with a failure to build relationships with your students don’t give up easily.  This is a time to reflect, pause and contemplate the problem.  A healthy attitude a teacher can take for any situations is that you:

  • Know what you know – you know what to do
  • You don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t know what to do

The thing that defines great teachers, read this carefully is they know what to do when they know they don’t know what to do and they take the required action; they will do what they have to do.

Finally, your empathetic relationships towards your students are professional, that is not to discount their authenticity but for your mental wellbeing they are to be confined to the school.  You can be empathetic towards your students but you cannot live for them.  It is their life and your job is to teach them how to get the best out of it for themselves.

Posted by: AT 06:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 11 2019

100 Ways to Say "Well Done"!

 

We all enjoy praise and it is recognised as an effective method to motivate students.  However, in the times of Skinnerian psychology, the reward/punishment approach to behaviour modification, there was an emphasis on positive reinforcement as a method to sculpt children’s behaviour.  Of course, it’s hard not to feel this way, who doesn’t like to be praised?

The emphasis on praise has led to the ‘every one’s a winner’ approach to motivating children, whether that be in school or in sport.  This tactic has back fired on a lot of fronts least of all in fostering enthusiasm – ‘why try if I get a trophy anyway’ and, what’s more the trophy means nothing!

Studies in business conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada in 2013 looked at the effectiveness of praise and criticism.  They found that the optimal ratio was 5.6:1, that is almost six occasions where the staff were prise for every piece of critical feedback.  The low end had a ratio of 0.36:1 a very negative environment.

You do need to provide ‘negative’ feedback to correct behaviour, how will they learn without it but it must be a criticism of their actions, what they do.  Never about what you think they are, for the students with histories of abuse and neglect and the resulting toxic shame, any negative description of what ‘they are’ only reinforces their poor sense of self.

There are times when it is impossible to provide any positive feedback.  When I first started to work with these disabled kids the idea was you had to provide at least four positive comments before you could make a negative one.  Teachers being assessed had to maintain this 4:1 ratio.  I have seen teachers, placed in front of an ‘out of control’ class desperately trying to find something positive to say let alone keep up the prescribed ratio!  Children will see any praise at this time as disingenuous and the teacher will lose their credibility!  Sometimes you have to get them quiet enough they will provide a genuine reason to praise them.

It becomes obvious that praise has some value but research has shown that the value is what you praise and what you criticise.  When you praise the child for ‘what they are’ saying things like, you’re very clever, you are a natural, you find this work very easy, etc.; there is plenty of evidence that this has a negative effect.  Children praised for ‘what they are’ will lack motivation and lose interest in the tasks and have their grades actually fall.  Most dangerous is to tell them they are very clever.

The praise should be directed at their effort and their attempts to complete tasks.  Things like ‘I can see you have made a good effort in doing those maths problems’ or ‘that work is really good, I can see how much you have improved your maths ability’.  If they think they are getting better they will keep on trying!

A more detailed description of this work is covered in a previous Newsletter on Praise found in the blog for September 12 2018.

Finally, there are a very powerful group of students who have been so rejected they view any type of praise as suspicious, they see it as an attempt to manipulate them.  For these kids just consistently praise them for the right thing without expecting any positive feedback and they will eventually change their attitude as long as you hang in.  Remember it has taken years of negative reinforcement to get them to the toxic sense of self they present, it will take a significant amount of persistence to change that position.

So, it is important to choose your words carefully.  The following are some sentence starters that might help:

  • You’ve got it made.
  • That’s right!
  • You’re on the right track now!
  • That’s good!
  • You are very good at that.
  • That’s coming along nicely.
  • That’s very much better!
  • Good work!
  • I’m happy to see you working like that.
  • You’re really working hard today.
  • You’re doing a great job.
  • You’ve just about got it.
  • That’s the best you’ve ever done.
  • That’s it!
  • Congratulations.
  • I knew you could do it.
  • That’s quite an improvement.
  • Now you have figured it out.
  • You are doing much better today.
  • Now you have it.
  • Not bad!
  • Great!
  • You’re learning fast.
  • Keep working on it. You’re getting better.
  • Good for you.
  • Couldn’t have done better myself.
  • You make it look easy.
  • You really make my job fun.
  • That’s the right way to do it!
  • One more time and you will have it.
  • You’re getting better every day.
  • You did it that time.
  • That’s not half bad.
  • Wow!
  • That’s the way!
  • Nice going.
  • Now you’ve figured it out.
  • Sensational!
  • You haven’t missed a thing.
  • That’s the way to do it.
  • Keep up the good work.
  • That’s better.
  • Nothing can stop you now!
  • That’s first-class work.
  • Excellent!
  • Perfect!
  • That’s the best ever.
  • You’re really going to town!
  • Fine! Terrific! You’ve just about mastered that!
  • That’s better than ever.
  • Nice effort.
  • Outstanding!
  • Now that’s what I call a fine job!
  • You did very well.
  • You must have been practicing!
  • Fantastic!
  • You’re doing beautifully.
  • You’re really improving.
  • Right on!
  • Good remembering.
  • Keep it up!
  • You did a lot of work today.
  • Tremendous!
  • You’re doing fine.
  • Good thinking.
  • You are really learning a lot.
  • Keep on trying.
  • You outdid yourself today.
  • I’ve never seen anyone do any better.
  • Good on you!
  • Good going!
  • I like that.
  • Marvellous!
  • I’m very proud of you.
  • I think you’ve got it now.
  • You figured that out fast!
  • You remembered!
  • That’s really nice.
  • It’s a pleasure to teach when you work like that.
  • You’re right.
  • That makes me feel good.
  • That’s great!
  • That’s it!
  • Way to go!
  • Well, look at you go!
  • Now you have the hang of it.
  • Much better! Wonderful
  • Super!
Posted by: AT 11:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 04 2019

The Impact of Language on the Behaviour Of Students with Behaviour or Emotional Disabilities.

The ability to effectively communicate with students is the hallmark of a great teacher.   Personal communication, because of its emotional content is at the heart of building good relationships.  The feeling of the message is just as important as the content.

It is believed that in any face to face interaction, 7% of the emotional meaning of a message is expressed with the words; 38% of the emotional component is communicated via the tone of the voice while more than half, 55%, is conveyed through facial expressions and body language

Children who have severe behaviour, or emotional, disabilities have, as a major characteristic, an extreme disability to understand, or read non-verbal cues.  This incapacity is known as dysemia.  In particular they have a hypersensitivity to negative social cues and are almost oblivious to positive messages.  Teachers, who deal with these students, need to understand that what they may consider to be a small correction will be interpreted as a major rejection; legitimate negative feedback becomes a perceived attack. 

On top of this difficulty in providing correction when students act in an inappropriate way, is that these students will also minimize, or misinterpret any positive stimulus provided by the teacher’s attempt to build a positive self-image for that student.  The value of positive reinforcement as an aid to learning is also diminished. 

The truth is, these students do not easily comprehend the intended objective of any message.  This disability creates problems at the very source of relationships and that is our communication.  What the teacher believes she is ‘saying’ and what the student ‘hears’ is very likely to be confused.

Students with this disability have a compounding feature, a propensity to be overwhelmed by the emotional content of any incoming stimulus.  If they perceive the situation they are faced with as being fearful the initiation of their protective behaviour reduces their capacity to make sound, rational decisions about their behaviour.

From the figures cited above it can be seen that our body language and facial expressions provides the bulk of the emotional content of our communication.  On the surface, this may appear to be an easy area to rectify; the teacher just needs to present herself in a warm, friendly manner.  However, these students, with their developed hypersensitivity to emotional stimulus are not ‘easily fooled’.  Teachers cannot fake their approach to these students.  Not only will they misread the emotional content, they will also identify magnify the negative component in the message.

So how do we communicate with students with emotional and behaviour disabilities?  First, we need to re-evaluate our attitude to these children.  They are hard to like; their disability is usually expressed in ways that others find offensive.  When their behaviour ‘hurts us’ that pain will be reflected in the very non-verbal cues, those we need to regulate.  

Teachers need to use very strong boundaries, understanding they are not really the cause of the dysfunctional behaviour it is a reflection of their history and finally they need to confirm a genuine affection for these children.

How the teacher moves around the classroom should also be considered.  These children are easily ‘spooked’ and it is a good technique to marginally slow down their movements and make that movement predictable, they know where we are going.  This relaxed movement allows the students to mirror this stress-free posture.

Proximity, that is moving close to a student who is misbehaving is often cited as an effective behaviour management strategy.  By standing close to the troubling student the teacher is effectively entering that child’s boundary and they will become aware there is a potential threat and they will change their behaviour. 

For students with severe behaviour problems boundaries are a troubled area.  For some, the definition of ‘proximity’ is marginal but they are hypersensitive to any perceived threat. It is important to never move that close to the student that you really are invading their personal space.

As over a third of the emotional meaning of any message is conveyed in the teacher’s tone of voice, like body language, the teacher cannot fake a caring and friendly quality in their speech; they must be genuine.  In a sense, the adjustment made in the movement is mirrored in how the teacher talks. It is important for the teacher’s voice to be no more than moderately paced and almost monotonic.  Any quick fired talk, or a voice that fluctuates across the vocal range, will emotionally confuse these students.

Experienced teachers often use the technique of deliberately lowering their voice to calm a noisy class down.  Others make quiet, shhhh sound to evoke a sense of calm in the classroom.  This latter practice may arouse childhood memories of a mother’s nurturing.  We understand that this is not as likely for the abused child but when the rest of the class settles, so does the emotional excitement for the damaged child.

As stated, the words in the message makes up only 7% of the emotional content.  However, even if we get the body language, the facial expressions and the tone in our voice right the substance of the words are important.  The words will communicate the lesson content but they also direct the student’s attention, critical for students with severe behaviours.   The manner instructions are delivered is an effective method of behaviour management. 

The thinking process of students who are struggling to control their behaviour is at best confused.  Giving clear, concise and short instructions direct the student’s attention and conveys what they are expected to do.

An effective instruction includes the following features:

  • Start with a verb, it is direct instruction – ‘Go to page three’!
  • Keep sentences short; less than five words to avoid confusion.
  • Limit instructions to short pauses while you continue to scan the class.
  • Give direct instruction only when you are starting ‘have to’ tasks.  If you are offering optional tasks you give the students choice.
  • Questions are excellent for engaging attention or starting a discussion but when you want them to start a class use direct instruction.
  • Use thanks rather than please at the end on an instruction.  Saying ‘thanks’ conveys the sense you assume they will complete the task. 
  • Use the word ‘now’ if the class is becoming distracted, this is like the starter’s pistol at the beginning of a race.
  • Give instructions in a firm, calm and measured manner. 
  • Wait ten seconds after the instruction is complete.  Resist the temptation to fill the gap of silence.

Just as you go to work in your ‘teacher’s uniform’, dressed as a professional, clean and well-groomed, at work you bring your teacher’s voice!  For example, I may use ‘colorful’ language when I’m out with my close friends but I will not swear in some social settings; I refrain from telling jokes at a funeral.  What you say must be what the students expect from a teacher.

If I see a student is upset I mirror their expression in an attempt to support them.  This mirroring, matching their body language and tone conveys a message that I am in tune with their feelings.  Unconsciously, they get the message that I respect how they feel and I am there to support them.  Once they become more settled, I would continue to reflect their improved emotional state.

When I am discussing an issue with students I often say ‘you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion’.  Of course, I want them to listen to what I’m saying.  You must give the student that same respect.  You don’t have to agree with them but by acknowledging you have listened, you can understand their point of view and a mutually acceptable outcome is more likely to be achieved.

To demonstrate your respect for what they say, start your replies to their statements with phrases like:

  • I appreciate
  • I recognize
  • I acknowledge
  • I understand
  • I respect

Finally, whenever you are in a dispute with a student avoid the word BUT; such as ‘your ideas are good BUT they would not achieve anything’; using ‘but’ indicates you completely disregard the ‘ideas’.  Of course, they might be wrong, however when you ignore their point of view you reject them.  We know that rejection is significant stressor for any person.  Always remember, if you want the students to get control of their behaviour you have to get their arousal down to manageable levels.  On top of this the student may have information that will help resolve the situation.

Students with behaviour, or emotional disabilities are at the mercy of their emotions.  If teachers can develop their communication skills to a level that minimizes the risk of driving these students into emotional overload, they will go a long way towards the effective management of their classroom.

Posted by: AT 07:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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