Teaching Misinformation: Keep a professional distance

The Gallup Organization has been collecting data since 1968 on the subject of “what makes teachers great”.   As one can imagine, they have collected a substantial amount of valuable information in their 45 years of data collection.  From Gallup’s extensive data base emerges a number of interesting  trends and themes, some of them contradict common assumptions and “conventional wisdom” held by many educators.  One of these is maintaining a professional distance.   “It’s all about relationships,” writes Rosanne Lieveld and Jo Ann Miller in Teach with Your Strengths, “relationships are what make the learning experience go.”  From Teach with Your Strengths:

Many great teachers find the image of the hardened disciplinarian distributing, if not distressing.  The get –tough approach suggests that students lie in wait, like half-starved pumas, for a moment of pedagogical weakness, then leap out and ravage any hope of learning – and teachers had better keep beating the [learners] back into the tall weeds or lose authority forever. 

Punishment kills learning and punishment eventually corrodes teachers.  There’s a time and a place for getting tough, of course, but there’s a difference between hard and soft control.  Prison guards exert hard control.  Great teachers master the softer variety.  [As one instructor puts it], “I tell them they count, they matter, they are of infinite value – and that’s not negotiable, not in the classroom or out of it.”  Gallups’s extensive research on employee engagement finds that adults seek workplaces where their managers care about them and in which their opinion counts. 

Caring in learning is a critical component to the instructor learner dynamic that counters the myth of keeping a professional distance.  In a recent article by Dr. Maryellen Weiner, research indicates that “students place a premium on faculty who show they care”.  In her article, Dr. Weiner cites the well-researched work of Steven Meyers who shares this insight, “Caring is regularly identified as one of the ingredients or components of effective instruction. What many teachers do not know is that students value the dimensions of caring more highly than teachers do.”  Dr. Weiner continues by addressing  faculty who believe “My job is to teach, not to care.”

These faculty worry that caring compromises academic rigor and lowers standards. They think that caring means always being nice, never pushing students, and always avoiding criticism. But it’s not a case of either-or—caring or doing those things associated with the instructional role. Teachers should do both because students benefit enormously when they do. And caring benefits teachers as well. Research has documented that when faculty don’t care or fail to communicate their concern for students, students respond in kind. When students don’t care about the teacher, they are much more willing to disrupt the class and make learning more difficult for everyone.

You can read more about this topic on Faculty Focus.
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