Friday, October 21, 2011

10 of the best: The IB Learner Profile - Caring

This is another post in the 10 of the best series.  This one was first published in July 2010 and created a lot of interest at the time and since.  Again I'm sharing this for my new readers.
I've just read an excellent blog post today on Caring in Education which I found following a tweet from @vickyloras.  I was so excited, as I finally managed to meet Vicky in person yesterday afternoon after following her on Twitter for a while.  We are both teachers, we both arrived in Switzerland at the same time last year and by a strange coincidence both ended up living in the same place, and while we have had different experiences we have a lot of common ground too.

Caring is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  The IB programmes "promote the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge ..... educating the whole person for a life of active, responsible citizenship."  The IB Learner Profile applies to everyone at the school:  students, teachers, administrators and parents, who are expected to support the learning.  Caring, therefore is something that teachers have to do explicitly.

The IB describes a caring person in the following way:
They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others.  They have a personal commitment to service and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.
Nel Noddings' article discusses the reciprocal nature of caring.  Most teachers are hard-working and care about their students, they have goals and try to encourage the students to reach these goals.  Sometimes these goals may be set by the school or an outside examining body.  From the outside, Nel argues that these teachers appear caring, but this is not the whole picture as it does not take into account the students' feelings of being cared for (or not) and the students' views of whether they think the teacher is a caring person.  In fact Nel mentions that some students confuse class control and hard work with caring.  Although in these classes the students may be working hard and doing what they are told, they may have little interest in what they are doing - the teacher has not really engaged them or explored topics of mutual interest and therefore they do not really feel cared for.

Caring does not happen in isolation - it is a two-way process that involves the teacher paying attention to the feelings and expressions of the students and getting feedback.  It is empathetic, rather than sympathetic and it involves responding to the actual feelings of the students in a positive way whether or not the teacher shares those feelings.  It also involves a response from the students so that the teacher can see the caring has been received.  Nel says:
Without an affirmative response from the cared-for, we cannot call an encounter or relation caring.
When a teacher is caring, he or she is automatically differentiating as s/he knows the needs of each individual student and helps each one to achieve their goals.  It's important to engage in dialogue to discover their needs, interests, strengths, weaknesses and how they best learn.  Once the students feel listened to, that their feelings are accepted, they will begin to trust and accept what the teacher is trying to teach.  The teacher also benefits as he or she has a greater understanding of how to plan lessons to reach all the students - thus by caring the teacher becomes a better teacher too!

Earlier this morning I also read a guest post on Ken Wilson's blog by Sue Lyon Jones.  I urge you to read her whole post, as it is fascinating.  In a nutshell, without any teacher training at all, Sue took on a group of "unteachable" kids who had either dropped out or been excluded from school because of disruptive behaviour.  The most important thing Sue did at the outset was to talk to them and show a genuine interest in them.  The students realised she cared, and they started to shape up, behave and care about themselves too.  Sue describes this job as the most rewarding job she'd done - so she got a lot out of it as well!  Sue lists what she learned from this experience:
  • There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” lesson. Students are individuals and need to be treated as such.
  • Find out what your students’ interests are and what motivates them, and work those things into your lessons.
  • Listen to your students and be sensitive to their needs.
  • Create a positive classroom atmosphere and make opportunities for fun – students who are having fun rarely (if ever) misbehave.
  • Praise your students sincerely and often for good work done.
  • Don’t spoon-feed your students – they need to be challenged and encouraged to think for themselves.
  • Be a mentor to your students; nurture their hopes and dreams and encourage them to aim high – if you have low expectations of your students, then they will live down to them.
And finally (and perhaps most importantly)
  • There is no such thing as an unteachable student. All students have potential – the key to unlocking it is making a connection with them and finding out what makes them tick.

My final thoughts on this can be summed up in another tweet I read earlier this week:
If we truly are caring teachers, if we are engaging in dialogue with our students, listening to them and planning our lessons accordingly, and we are already getting feedback from them in order to inform our planning, then we are making a positive difference in their lives.  So what on earth would we have to be afraid of with students evaluating us in return?

Photo Credit:  The Joy of Teaching by J.C. Rojas

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