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Professional effectiveness (part two)

February 24, 2008

Hello again,

To continue the brief discussion of key points for professional effectiveness, I’ll start with motivating and influencing others. Clearly teachers need to be able to motivate learners and influence them to act on the advice we give. The atmosphere we create...

... in the classroom, the personal integrity we display as teachers, the clarity of our instruction, the fairness of evaluations, the encouragement we give and the relevance of what we teach all play a part in motivating students. In other words, students will want to learn and make progress if you get that mix right. Similarly, to influence them we need to be persuasive and show that we believe in what we advocate. Influence is best exerted by example rather than direct assertions that our ways are right. But we can’t always get people to adopt our advice and that is something to accept too. I shall never forget the student who had devised his own ‘lite’ form of English grammar and who insisted on using this despite that fact that people found it painful to listen to. I recorded him, pointed out all the reasons why system would be unacceptable to others but he stuck to his guns. Influence is taking the horse to water but then its up to the horse to drink.

Communicating assertively is essential if you are to sound confident. Assertive communication also makes others feel valued because you listen to them and take their contributions seriously. To communicate assertively don’t whinge or bully. Be calm and positive and remember to accept that others have a right to their view just as you have a right to yours.

Teachers need to be confident in the classroom in order to maintain credibility. Confidence does not mean you have to know it all, however. Confidence comes from being sure you can handle any teaching situation appropriately. It is all right to admit the gaps in your knowledge: nobody has all the answers, but your confidence should lie in being able to respond in a helpful way. You also need the confidence to assess situations and respond in the best way. I can remember only one occasion when I backed away from a situation in the classroom but I was still confident enough to do it. I had an unruly group that stubbornly refused to co-operate. I calmly packed up my things and walked out. About five minutes later one of the students came to the staffroom and politely asked me to come back.

And that brings me to my next point. It is a fact of life that you will have to deal with difficult situations and people from time to time. In dealing with difficult people, try to remember that they have the problem not you (assuming of course that you are being reasonable). If they are habitually difficult (obstructive, negative, aggressive, arrogant, etc.), other people will feel as you do about them. They will suffer in the end. Use assertive communication so that you do listen to their viewpoint but still stick to your own. Judge how useful continued discussion will be and end the conversation if it is going nowhere. Simply say that you realise you are not going to agree and so you will not pursue the matter any more. If the person’s behaviour is unreasonable, point out how it impacts on you. Don’t be tempted to react to their behaviour, instead avoid them and only deal with them when you have to.

As for difficult situations, I would say they are of two main kinds: the predictable and the unexpected. If you go to teach in a developing country, to a very different culture, as a volunteer, for example, you know beforehand that you are taking on a big challenge. Clearly you should only proceed if you are willing to accept the difficulties you will face. On no account should you go ahead if you intend to complain about the conditions. But at least the choice is yours. Some people seek challenges, others feel overwhelmed by them.

More problematic are the issues that come out of the blue. You can be prepared for some situations such as illness or accidents by having proper insurance cover, but
what if your school suddenly shuts its doors as happened with the Nova Group? You can’t cover every eventuality and to cope with the unexpected you need to be resourceful and resilient. Much depends on your attitude. Setbacks need not be entirely negative: you can learn from them and how you deal with them can stand you in good stead for the future.

More in part three…..

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