Individual versus group demands.

May 21, 2021

A straightforward way of thinking about the education needs of the population of a school is through the lens of economics. For example there are 1000 pupils in the school. What is the best way to educate 1000 pupils? The obvious answer is to split them into groups of similar age and abilities and then you are able to teach a subject to 20-30 pupils at a time.

We are aware that it is not so straightforward. In a class of 30 young people of a similar age and abilities, there are 30 children with different personalities, social constructs, emotional intelligence and resiliences.

In any group setting it is important to have a shared direction and social construct. The constructs include recognition of a teacher who is teaching a group of children a specific subject, and also set rules for this class. Rules cover when the lesson starts, when it finishes, acceptance that the pupils are to listen and be in a state of engaged thoughtfulness. There is also a construct requiring respect for the teacher and other learners.

I could extend to other layers of complexity. Each child is part of a family or care system who have their own family-centric beliefs about schools and learning, represented to varying degrees by each child. There is also the ever shifting social demands on teachers, often portrayed through media, of a need to provide ever improving exam results, whilst also being shamed for not meeting the individual  needs of some young people.

This depicts a highly demanding landscape in which a teacher must reach for the highest academic development of each child, whilst also maintaining an education environment which is the appropriate environment for every personality in the teachers care.

Unfortunately for even the most experienced and skilled teachers there will always be young people who have times when they are not in the emotional place required to engage in learning. The message given by society is that if schools and individual teachers are failing to educate even one child in their care, then they are failing. The danger is that feelings of failure and fear of failure can build up feelings of resentment.

The emotional challenge to a school and individuals within it can be considerable.  Schools have made considerable adjustments to provide a consistent predictable and progressive environment. The sense of a concept of success or failure is intrinsic to the school institution as the school is progressing its young people towards their GCSE’s and academic achievement. This could create a polarised view of the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ way of addressing things. When it comes to the personal relationships involved in a pupil teacher relationship there needs to be space for failure and difficulty that can be endured as opposed to changed. It is important to understand that for all individuals there are certain personalities in children and in turn in teachers that mean that their teaching relationship is not going to be fully successful. Rather than starting from a place of, “I need to be a success with every pupil,” consider that it can be healthy, helpful and appropriate for me to struggle with some children; this struggle may be what that child needs from me and serve benefit. Rather than fighting this insight the relationship is likely to be more successful if it is accepted that it is not ideal.

I have been privileged to hear teachers share their vulnerability and insecurity with each other about situations and then be amazingly understanding towards each other.

Schools have many structures to support children who are not able to engage in learning due to personal difficulties. These school services, however, are still usually validated through the lens of the academic achievement of the young people involved.

If a school is able to recognise its own intrinsic limitations and provide an environment which is able to recognise and process the complex emotional feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability both on an institution wide and individual basis, then this is likely to be a school which will provide an environment which is more containing for an individual child who is in their own place of emotional distress.

In short a school that is able to recognise and manage its own limitations in an understanding way is going to be far more equipped to help the children in its care to be accepting of their own limitations and vulnerabilities.

Talk to Kate.