Articles penned by furious teachers lambasting the state of education appear to be the norm. Is it time to stop whining about the profession and start winning the little battles?

Here are some recent articles from around the web:

Why teachers are lining up to leave (The Guardian)

SEN pupils are losing out (The Independent)

Teachers are at breaking point (The Guardian)

We’re in danger of leaving behind our most vulnerable students (Mr Benjamin Hamilton)

Yes, I complain and campaign just as much as anyone. But, the negative press surrounding classroom behaviour, school politics and teacher mental well-being could be causing more harm than good.

There is a popular theory, in psychology, called the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, first coined as a response to racial prejudice in the 1940s The self-fulfilling prophecy [pdf] (Merton, 1948).

Essentially, people take statements such as ‘every classroom is a battlefield’, construe them to be undeniable fact and subconsciously make decisions which enable the statement to thrive. I’ve boiled a complex psychological theory down to its essence, so I’ll confirm that there are plethora of other variables at play. However, there is hefty evidence which unequivocally states how powerful the self-fulfilling prophecy is.

Which brings me to the point of my article: we must proceed to with caution when we read news articles which state classrooms are ‘battlegrounds’. There is a real danger that the profession creates a perpetual loop of: negative headline – negative school/classroom experience – negative headline.

Don’t confuse my message for one of accusing the profession of banality – to the contrary – I want to stimulate change in government policy, so that all facets of education are solely focused on the student (their intellectual development, spiritual and emotional development and professional development).

Yet, it is vital we don’t become drowned in negativity. We must focus on winning the little battles.

For example; there are numerous Twitter users who malign the lack of appreciation they receive as teachers. Yet, literally two weeks ago, my school ran an appreciation campaign which tasked the kids with nominating ANY member of staff for appreciation. The idea was very simple – write who and why you’d like to thank a person on a slip of paper and they would be placed in the respective staff members pigeon hole. The kids absolutely loved it – it was meant to be limited to one each, but my coaching group wanted to thank two or three members of staff; it seemed against the spirit to limit their appreciation!

It was lovely to see the messages of thanks – I had close to 40 slips of appreciation, which made me feel awesome. This felt like a win – give kids the opportunity to be kind and thankful, and they will be.

To the cynics – I work in a school which has a high proportion of ‘disadvantaged’ (I hate that label) students, so it can apply to your school, too!

Moreover, be candid with your students – get to know them as people, not just behaviour monsters or bits of data. I’ve recently been invited to a charity event at a local mosque by a Muslim student, because I expressed an interest in learning more about her faith and the community which I serve. Another little win which can really help develop relationships with myself and the local community.

Relationships are the key to inspiring young people. Patience and empathy are wonderful skills; both have encouraged a pupil with a significant mental illness to make magnificent changes to their life. They have gone from constant behaviour interventions and poor learning outcomes to a star student. At parents evening, their parents were extremely thankful for the extra time I’ve put in developing their child’s confidence – another small win and proof, if any is needed, that in teaching, we reap what we sow.

Find opportunities for little wins – it may not make an immediate impact, but we certainly need to rebuild trust in the profession. Meaningful relationships with these kids will stick with them forever, and they’ll pass down their positive experiences to the next generation. Focus on the little wins; it may help the whining.

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