Alan November about Teaching

Alan November about Teaching

Farewell to a beloved teacher

This video moved me very much because I remember spending 13 years in a small private school, and I remember how small and tight our community used to be.

But nothing prepared me for the emotion that I would feel, when watching the emotion and love as an entire school of young men said goodbye to a beloved teacher.

May we all be so loved and respected and celebrated at least once in our lives.

At assembly this morning we bid farewell to Mr. John Adams, the school Guidance Counsellor, who is retiring from teaching. Mr. Adams is moving to Nelson to be closer to his family so that he can dedicate more of his time to them. Mr. Adams has provided thirty years of dedicated service to Palmerston North Boys’ High School in New Zealand. (April 2016)
Farewell to a beloved teacher

What are Ethics? [video]

Although we might not realize it, we all face ethical issues on a regular basis. But how do we know how to respond well to these issues, to make better (as opposed to worse) ethical decisions? In this TEDx talk Dr. Michael D. Burroughs discusses the numerous kinds of ethical issues we face, possibilities for increasing our ethical awareness as “everyday ethicists,” and the importance of introducing ethics and philosophical education in our schools. Dr. Burroughs also discusses the role of ethics in the lives of children and ways in which adults can attempt to understand and learn from children in ethical discussions.

Why are we avoiding issues of ethics, and why are we avoiding engaging in respectful and civil dialogue about ethics? Many people simply do not have the tools to address issues of ethics.

Dr. Burroughs works with small children (ages 3, 4 or 5 years old) and observes the sense of ethics that already exists in people of such a young age. The respect, humility and eagerness to recognize issues of fairness and ethics is already displayed in young children.

When children already have such an ingrained sense of ethics, at what point of our lives do we begin to doubt this sense, or even lose it? This video inspired me, and made me think about my own ethical journey. I hope that you will enjoy this video as well.

What are Ethics? [video]

Ethical Coercion, Alternate Points of View

In the Skillful Teacher, Brookfield (2015) takes on a topic that I found arresting at first: ethical coercion. In this intriguing section of his book, he first discusses the work of Ian Baptiste who states that “teachers can’t help but be directive in their actions, despite avowals of neutrality or noninterference” (p. 247). This means that instructors must, at times, impose their preferences and agendas on their learners.

Sometimes, Brookfield continues, instructors should “refuse to do what [students] ask, thereby risking accusations that we are ignoring their requests”. An example that he provides concerns critical thinking – refusing “to comply with their request for the right answer, appearing to contradict the notion of responsiveness” (p. 249).

The intriguing thinker behind this view is Herbert Marcuse: “Marcuse argues that it is educationally crucial that learners be exposed to alternative, often dissenting, ideologies and perspectives, even though they do not see the necessity for this. For [Marcuse] this is the practice of liberating rather than repressive tolerance. Marcuse argues that without knowing the full range of options, viewpoints, or ideologies surrounding an issue, students cannot make a truly informed judgment as to which directions they wish to explore more deeply.” (p. 249). Brookfield then continues: “…this is the only way that teachers can ensure students will be availed of the full range of knowledge, facts and interpretations that exist on any issue.”

Learners need exposure to all available information and perspectives so that they can make informed choices about what to learn. Some of these choices might be unusual, uncomfortable, illogical at first, or completely foreign. Offering these ideas, at times contrarian approaches, and opening the discussion in class to examine these points of view offers a rich educational experience.

I was impressed by these few pages in Brookfield’s book, as I often assign case studies to my B Tech students. They work in groups on complex case studies and present their issues, assumptions, alternatives and recommendations to the class, every two weeks. A set of alternatives is evaluated, broken into components and quickly dismissed by one team; whereas one of these alternatives may be explored to its logical end by another team. I relish the moments when class presentations become heated discussions about the rights and wrongs of a particular point of view (about doing business in China, for example) and everyone in the class joins in, passionately describing why their alternative is the correct one and why their proposed recommendations form the best approach for the case study.

In my introductory courses, however, my students shy away from critical thinking, and like to return to their safe place of rote learning. By providing small examples in class of situations where they have to think beyond what they know, and make guesses (egads!) which we then can re-frame as assumptions, I hope to turn my young learners into future case study enthusiasts. That road is long – and it will take a few years – but already I sense that a few of my young students are keen to explore, to draw a line in the sand, and make a guess about a marketing direction, a business decision, and a path to new products and new successes.

Classroom (1939) – Image by Jack Delano. Library of Congress. No Copyright.


Brookfield, S. D. (2015) The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

Ethical Coercion, Alternate Points of View

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

In my technology management classes at BCIT I seek to create an environment where my students are open to learning. I strive to create a climate where students are comfortable, feel free to express their opinions, and share stories about business situations which lead to classroom discussion.

At the beginning of each term I start my courses with a round of introductions, ensure I learn my students’ names, create clear expectations for assessment and coursework, and nurture opportunities for students to meet one another in paired discussions, create trust and bond during the course, and learn from one another as well as from me.

I am always keen to learn more on the topic of creating a positive learning environment for students, so I turned to scholarly papers as well as to online articles on to see what other tools and techniques I could adopt to facilitate my students’ learning.

Barge (2014) presents a handy one-page checklist for teachers to create a “well-managed, safe and orderly environment that is conducive to learning, and encourages respect for all”. He bases his list on “good discipline, effective routines, smooth transitions and ownership of the environment”. Some of the tactics that he proposes involve creating a comfortable physical environment and “preparing and organizing the materials and framing the lessons in a logical and coherent manner”.

He notes, however, that a positive learning environment is not simply a matter of organization and class layout. Trust is important as well. In a positive learning environment “risk-taking is welcome, engagement is the norm and authentic conversations occur”. This can only happen in a nurturing space where students feel psychologically safe, where their self-image is preserved, where they feel they belong, the lessons and actions are purposeful and where learners derive a sense of competence.

Taylor (n.d.) believes that learning is facilitated by humour. It “facilitates retention of novel information, increases problem solving, relieves stress and increases perceptions of teacher credibility”. One does not need to become a stand-up comedian to use humour in the classroom: a simple attitude of smiling often and being light-hearted, spontaneous and natural may suffice. Relaxing control, opening conversation with humour – perhaps by using stories or relating everyday events – works well. Adding a touch of tasteful humour into lectures also helps relax the mood in the class, and opens students to new information.

In a short article for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alfred (2008) draws a short list of actions to enable learning: present a classroom code of conduct during the first class, make classes relevant, teach positive actions, reinforce positive behaviours, be a good role model (and point to other positive role models), and always remain positive.

An article on the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (n.d.) web site also underscores respect for the individual as a building block for learning environment – learn the students’ names, encourage them to participate in class, listen to what they have to say and incorporate highlights into teaching materials and respect their contributions. Also, organize the physical environment, be organized, involve some humour in class and encourage the students to loosen up as well; establish norms of conduct, be respectful of students’ inputs, and highlight their contributions.

In summary, creating a positive learning environment requires attention to a number of important vectors: creating such an environment is not only a matter of maintaining a comfortable physical space, but also requires organized lectures with clear expectations, a lighthearted environment where the student is respected, engagement is encouraged and two-way communication is highlighted. The focus is not only on the physical space, but also on the climate of the heart: a space where, as Barge(2014) reminds us, a class can meet in an atmosphere of “trust, fairness, caring, respect and enthusiasm”.

As I prepare for a new set of classes beginning in April, I will keep these wise directives in mind. I will continue to prepare my classes and set expectations ahead of time, I will work on instilling a light-hearted yet focused learning environment with diverse activities to engage my students, and I will continue to encourage discussions.

Susan Sermoneta, Fitclass, CC 2005
Image by Susan Sermoneta, FitClass, CC 2005


Alfred, C. (2008). “Seven Strategies for Building Positive Classrooms”. Educational Leadership, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

Barge, J. (2014). “Teacher Assessment on Performance Standard 7: Positive Learning Environment”. TKES Quick Guide, Georgia Department of Education. Retrieved from

Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (n.d.). “Building a Positive Learning Environment”. University of Saskatchewan. Retrieved from

Taylor, A. (n.d.). “Laugh and Learn”. Humber Centre for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

Creating a Positive Learning Environment