The teacher and the selfie stick – a few thoughts on classroom self-awareness.

When you get to my age, many things are annoying.  Most things perhaps.  Of all the annoying inventions of the 21st century, the selfie stick seems to me to be one of the worst. They suggest a great deal of vanity in their owners – the idea that they are more interesting than the place they are in. They also block the view in galleries and museums.

But they have got me thinking. One of the great things about being a teacher is that once the door is closed, the classroom is your world.  A private place for you and your students. This is a great idea but as teachers we have so many things to do, so many things to remember that we sometimes don’t have a chance to assess what it is actually like to be taught by us, what it feels like, how we appear, how we sound. If we could take a series of selfies over the length of a lesson we might get a real sense of how we seem to our students and this should lead to a heightened sense of self-awareness. Even with a horrible selfie stick this wouldn’t be practical, so how can we develop that sense of ourselves as teachers?

People may worry about being too self-critical and there is risk of that but American psychotherapist Stephen L. Salter has written on what he calls “the tyrannical culture of positivity”. You can blame Facebook and its ‘likes’ for this in my view. I think a healthy critique of our classroom behaviours is a useful tool.

The best way perhaps is to have one or more of your classes video-recorded. A well-made recording of your lesson will allow you analyse so many of your behaviours and the responses of your students. The first time you see yourself teaching on film there is a certain ‘cosmetic effect’ –“is that really how I look, oh no, look at me” etc. But it doesn’t last. The real problem with being videoed is practicality in that it’s unlikely that it can be done often enough to be really useful.  Being observed by a colleague is of course another way of understanding how you appear to your students, but whoever observes may not give you the feedback you really need.  Your best critic is of course you – a high degree of self-awareness seems key to being an effective teacher.

So what about a series of imaginary selfies, a series of snapshots of you at work? Just the act of imagining what images the camera might save seems me to be a good way to raise self-awareness. I do this while and after I deliver my teacher development sessions. So we need some sort of check list of what to consider. Here’s mine:

Your position in the room – are you at the front only or do you ‘enter the class’ and mingle with the students listening and watching? Do you get close to those at the back of the room? Do you block the view your students have of the whiteboard or do you even talk to the whiteboard? Remember when you write on the board, stop talking as the loss of facial contact with the students decreases audibility.

Your movements – first of all do you actually move? Static teachers are not very motivating for the students. Assuming you do move, is it in a fixed pattern like a caged tiger or is it more random? Either way your movements should have purpose and not be a distraction for the learners. And never forget how position and movement influence audibility.

Your face and eyes are part of the way you react, the ways you indicate success or displeasure, the ways you support a struggling student or encourage an unfocussed one. They can also give away boredom, lack of interest and frustration!  And make it clear when you weren’t listening – it happens to us all!  Eyes are also a way of ensuring inclusivity – making eye contact with all students including those at the back makes them all feel involved. I often work with very large groups and use my eyes a lot to keep a sense of unity. Yes in some cultures eye contact is minimal but then facial and hand gestures can be used to keep the feeling of inclusivity.

Your clothing. This can be awkward but if you feel uncomfortable in a particular set of clothes, you will probably look it too.  Equally it seems obvious but a good teacher moves, bends and leans a lot and that can be rather, er, revealing sometimes. For both men and women by the way.

Your body language is often unconscious and the whole issue is highly cultural but the defensive pose of crossed arms or the confrontation of hands on hips are pretty universal. Open arms and gestures of inclusivity and support are important. Do also remember your height in relation to the students.  I remember early on in my career learning how my height (1.8m) could intimidate young learners, so I taught myself to crouch down.

There are of course no correct ways of how you appear to your students. What matters is the fact that you consider these issues and try to picture yourself in the classroom. Awareness, not paranoia.

But no selfie sticks please.


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