As an educational developer I often do class observation where I try to become a resource fostering faculty professional development. I behave as a critical friend and give faculty feedbacks in order to try to promote reflective practice, it may be particularly useful for new hired faculty. Not long ago, I was doing a class observation during which, in my opinion, the professor humiliated one student, even if he was not intending to do so. Indeed a student asked a question about a technical concept he didn’t understand. He received a very bad answer which was: ‘I have just explained that concept! How many times do I have to repeat the same things over and over again so that you understand them Mister X.?’ Moreover, the teacher didn’t hide that this question was getting on his nerves. What emotion can a student feel under such a circumstance? Undoubtedly he couldn’t have felt positive, yet positive energy is so important to motivate a student to experience deep learning.
When I gave my feedback about this class observation, I tried to let the concerned faculty member experience an emotion close to the one experienced by his student. I then asked the following question:’ As new faculty, you have been attending 6 days of professional development so far, which is good, but in your opinion how many more days of professional development would you need to apply the taught concepts and teaching strategies in your daily practice?’ the first reaction was made of astonishment and embarrassment, which allowed us to engage in a very constructive discussion. I sincerely hope to have arisen this teacher’s awareness about the importance of warm-heartedness in teaching.
I am deeply inspired by Richard Curwin’s work (Curwin, et al., 2008) to find ways to help faculty practice warm-heartedness in their teaching and in their relationships with students. Here are the 6 basic pieces of advice inspired by Curwin which I try to promote as an educational developer:
- On no account embarrass your students! It’s completely inadequate and unacceptable in my opinion.
- Keep communication between you and your students private when talking about inappropriate behaviour or academic progress.
- Avoid sarcasm, even if your students might seem to like it. Students often save face by hiding how humiliated they really feel.
- Always give students the right to pass when you call upon them in class.
- Never praise a student for doing a simple task. This only makes your student feel that you have low expectations for him.
- Ask students to write you an anonymous note about anything that they might find humiliating or embarrassing in class, you might be surprised by their observations.
Listening carefully and behaving cheerfully create the best conditions to promote a safe learning environment and thus strengthen deep learning. A bad comment from a teacher can humiliate and lower a student’s self-esteem for his entire life! Every student in school deserves the right to feel emotionally safe from embarrassment and humiliation by students. When this principle is violated, not only does academic performance decline, but also students might be hurt for the rest of their life. Every student deserves to be treated with respect and warm-heartedness, as educators, it is our duty to do so!
Curwin, R. L., Mendler, A. N., & Mendler, B. D. (2008). Discipline with dignity : new challenges, new solutions (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.