Effective learning needs a positive dynamic between teacher and pupils

Many of us have fond memories of comics like the Dandy and the Beano. Fans of the latter will doubtless have enjoyed reading about the mischievous antics of the Bash Street Kids and their fun and games with Teacher. The worldview was a static one; the portrayal of school life timeless. Indeed, a quick glance at some recent storylines suggests that nothing much has changed even today, more than 60 years after the Bash Street Kids first appeared.

The wooden desks and blackboards depicted classrooms as they were in the 1950s. I remember three adults who appeared regularly. One was the headteacher, who was (of course) male. Another was Cook, who was (of course) female.

The third was Teacher, as much a lead character as the Bash Street Kids themselves. Although Teacher himself was a figure of fun, his mortar board and cane symbolised an approach to learning that was also very much of its time: the omniscient authority figure dispensing knowledge to pupils who were expected to silently take it all in. It was, literally, ‘chalk and talk’. To question the teacher was to cross a line. The cane was not just part of the costume. It had a real and painful purpose.

You might argue that the last few sentences are as much a caricature as the Bash Street Kids comic strip itself. Of course it is the case that many children in the past benefitted from wonderful teaching delivered by caring, humane and inspirational practitioners. Sadly, however, what I described really was the reality for many of us. I still remember one particular teacher terrorising the primary school class that I was in. We were just 9 and 10 years of age, and we lived and learned in constant fear of her strap.

Education, of course, isn’t static at all. I explored in a recent post how teaching has changed over the decades. Part of that change is the growing awareness that the emotional dynamic in the classroom really matters. Progress in learning depends on children feeling safe, welcomed and valued by the teacher.

Life-based learning fully embraces the idea of establishing the right emotional climate for learning so that children are relaxed and ready for learning. It is one of six brain-targeted teaching strategies I wrote about here.

Teachers need to model the way we want children to interact with each other. This means unconditional positive regard, taking a calm, consistent and collegiate approach in the language used, tone of voice and body language.

The consultancy Pivotal Education offers training for teachers in consistent and calm adult behaviour. The Pivotal approach includes scripted interventions to help manage difficult situations calmly and restorative follow-ups to help repair and rebuild damaged teacher-pupil relationships.

Relationships is one of the nine life-based learning themes through which the Forum for Life-Based Learning believes the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

The Relationships learning theme arms children with key skills as they begin to construct an ever-expanding web of relationships at home, in school and in the wider world, including — ultimately — the workplace.

Read More About Relationships

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