8 August 2015

Developing Learning Relationships

I have been thinking a lot lately about the relationships that we are developing with our children at our school. I remember hearing about the research that was being done by David Hargreaves from a colleague returning back from the UK a few years ago. His work was based on mental models in teaching and learning with a particular emphasis on interpersonal relationships. Sadly, it was written in 1975.

Hargreaves refers to three mental models that teachers typically hold:

  • Lion Tamer – Control by power – education is about keeping children managed, contained, busy and good 

  • Entertainer – Control by manipulation - education is about keeping children controlled, happy, busy and good 

  • New Romantic – Teaching model based on ‘unconditional positive regard for the learner’, education is about child agency, child engagement and teacher as ‘activator’ – feedback, student verbalisation, challenging goals, frequent checks on effect of teaching…’ 

Few teachers hold only one mental model exclusively but I think all of us have met our fair share of "lion tamers" and "entertainers" in the staffroom. And like many, I aspire to be a "new romantic" in an ILE. Next time you lead a group discussion be self aware and ask who is doing the talking & who controls the interaction?

There are distinct parallels between Hargreaves work and the learning relationships that Michael Absolum talks about in "Clarity in the Classroom". 

Absolum discusses the following perspectives of educators with regards to the relationships that they develop with the children that they work with:

  • A Control Focused Perspective, ie. the teacher has control by power - learning is about keeping children managed, contained, busy and good - little time for an ‘expressive / evaluative’ process of learning.
  • A Caring Focused Perspective. The teacher has control by good intention. Learning is hampered by sympathy and excuse making.  There is no need for ‘expressive / evaluative’ processes because "that's okay... it was a good try."
  • A Learning Focused Perspective. This is when learning at the centre. Learning ‘is the sole purpose of the relationship’ between the teacher and the children he is working with. Learning is about child agency and engagement. The teacher's role is to activate this which in turn promotes the need for an ‘expressive / evaluative’ process as a part of the learning cycle. 
Absolum goes on to suggest that there are a number of attributes you would notice if children are really learning to learn.  The first is a sense of self confidence - they know that they can learn. Children are in control of their learning. 

My wondering is how well are we developing and building our relationships with the children that we are working with? Is learning really at the heart of our interactions? 

Ref: Mental Models in Teaching & Learning David Hargreaves,: Interpersonal Relationships and Evaluation 1975  
Michael Absolum,: Ref: Clarity in the Classroom