Are teachers stealing problems from learners?

My school’s team of counsellors invited a speaker to provide professional development on the introduction of our student mediation program. Some students were going to receive training on how to become mediators of their peers’ problems. The training focused on the types of questions you ask as a mediator and the difficulties people found in not automatically trying to solve the problems they were listening to.

Owning Problems

The speaker asked the teachers to roleplay a mediation situation and discuss a problem that a teacher was having at the time. The aim was to become better listeners and through the example mediation questions, empower the problem-owner by letting them realise their own solution. In discussion afterwards, there seemed general agreement that it was:

  • Important to let the person work it through themselves as otherwise we might not truly solve the problem
  • Interrupting with suggested solutions would switch ownership of the problem from the victim to the mediator, disenfranchising the victim from the solution.

A parallel with teaching

My simple conclusion at the end of the session was that the relationship between teacher and learner should be exactly the same. Teachers should pullback from providing solutions in classrooms as this means that learners never own the challenge. This itself is a challenging proposition as I am suggesting that once students see a teacher trying to provide solutions, they understandably struggle to truly engage in the experience.

This does question:

  • Worksheets
  • Lecturing
  • Flipped Teaching
  • Lesson plans around content
  • Textbooks (The answers at the back!)
  • etc.

It’s time for teachers to build their practice around prompting questions and not guiding solutions. This makes for a better and more meaningful journey for the learners.

A matter of context?

The strange thing from me is that some teachers have their practice of teaching content and solutions so ingrained that the struggle or refuse to see this parallel. Where they have some faith that young people might be able to solve their own personal and social problems, they still maintain a notion that without a teacher, few learning solutions would ever eventuate. This of course is the common issue of relinquishing one’s power base and stepping down from one’s stage. It is as human to want a sense of power and especially an ego boosting ‘stage’ in the classroom, as it is for anyone to interrupt mediation with solutions to people’s personal problems.

It’s time for teachers to shift their practice to one of mediating learning. Plan and structure the learning environment and questioning, not the paths that learners must follow to arrive at predetermined solutions as this reduces the depth of the learning experience.

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