I was reading Brookfield’s Skillful Teacher (2015) on using imagination, play and creativity inside the classroom and came across a brief mention on page 126 about John Bohannon’s TED talk proposal for science PhD candidates to present their dissertations through …dance.
I knew I had to look up his talk, and here it is! Bohannon proposes that we use dance to justify major policy decisions: “Rather than dancing our Ph.Ds,we should use dance to explain all of our complex problems.Imagine our politicians using danceto explain why we must invade a foreign countryor bail out an investment bank.It’s sure to help.” What a different world it would be!
And if you would like to read more about the Dancing for Your PhD competition, and see some very creative entries, you can see a good article here. And if you have a PhD thesis that you wish to submit to dance, the competition opens every year with a deadline in June, with details here.
In Chapters 16 and 17 of “The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield creates a taxonomy of reasons for students’ resistance to learning, and then presents some approaches that instructors may take, to overcome the resistance.
Some of the factors for resistance are innate to the learners, but others are caused by the instructors’ presentation and manner in the classroom – and can easily be remedied by adding more context, slowing down, or reviewing at the volume of material that is presented in a class and cutting away the excess. I’ll present the lists here and comment a bit more below.
What can cause fear of learning? Some possible reasons why students resist learning:
Fear of change
The teacher is unqualified
The learning was prescribed without any attempt to justify how acquiring that knowledge would be in the student’s own best interests
The learning is a waste of time
The learning is taught by an incompetent fool
There are unreasonable demands from the part of the instructor, with
…broken teacher promises
…and clear incompetence
Brookfield then lists the possible reasons why students are resisting learning:
Poor self-image as learners
A fear of the unknown
A normal rhythm of learning
A dis-junction of learning and teaching styles
Feeling that the learning activity is irrelevant
The level of required learning is inappropriate
Fear of looking foolish in public
Lack of clarity in the teacher’s instructions
The students’ dislike of the teacher
The material is going too far, too fast, too soon
How can an instructor respond to this? Here are some steps that the instructor can take, when students are not taking seriously the learning that the instructor is sharing:
Sort out the roots of resistance
Ask yourself if the resistance is justified
Research the students’ backgrounds
Involve students in educational planning, when appropriate
Use a variety of teaching methods and approaches
Assess learning incrementally
Check that intentions are clearly understood
Build a strong case for learning
Create situations in which students succeed
Don’t push too fast
Admit the normality of resistance
Try to limit the negative effects of resistance
Of all the approaches, I think (5) rings most true for me. I have found that, in my 13 years at BCIT and my new instructional engagements in other universities, that “class culture” always varies. I might be very lucky, and find myself in a classroom where all my students are actively engaged in the subject matter, and they ask good questions, and engage with one another during class with points and counterpoints. This was the class that I just finished this week!
But in other classes, my students are quiet …too quiet. And they are polite, and listen carefully – but when I ask if there are any questions, …more quiet.And so I put them into groups, and assign little problems for them to work on, and all of a sudden my class is abuzz with activity and focused chatter.
The recommendation that makes me least comfortable, in Brookfield’s list above, is researching the students’ backgrounds. I don’t want to ask, I don’t want to pry. I share, a little, about myself in my classroom – and am delighted when some of my students share, a little, about themselves as well: a new part-time job, or something funny that their parents said to them. I can gather so much from their little stories. But to research the backgrounds? This goes far beyond what I feel comfortable doing, or even asking “tell me about yourself, what brought you here”. I am here teaching adults. Pushing that boundary, wanting to learn more about their context or more about their life outside of school – for my younger students as well as my oldsters – just does not feel right to me.
The key to overcome resistance to learning is to be flexible, and do what works. And if that doesn’t work – then try something else. I want my students to succeed in what I teach, I would like them to come away having learned from the 40 hours that they have spent with me in my class; and I hope that enjoyed some if not most of the proceedings.
I know that I will never be able to reach ALL my students equally, but that does not fault me from trying. I believe that creating small successes, providing clear feedback – and encouraging feedback – helps build up my students’ desire to learn, and open them up to a lifetime of learning. After all, they are in my class, that’s a good first step. And when they return the following week – that’s a good second step. My ultimate goal, in the end, is to not only foster their enthusiasm for the management of technology and marketing courses that I teach, but to foster in them a desire, a lifetime desire, to keep learning and upgrading their skills – and sharpen their sense of curiosity.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
I have been reading more about impostor syndrome among students, ever since I posted about the syndrome on this blog in October. I took an interest in the topic, and researched a few resources online to explore it further.
Pauline Rose Clance offers a 20-question online test for Impostor Syndrome with a helpful summary for responses. Do you feel like an impostor? What is an impostor?
Weir (2013) describes it as “First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” First ascribed to women, feelings of impostorship apply also to high-achieving men.
Weir continues: “So-called impostors think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and they rarely ask for help. That perfectionism can lead to two typical responses: an impostor may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that he or she won’t be able to complete it to the necessary high standards. Or, he or she may over-prepare, spending much more time on a task than is necessary.”
What does this mean? CalTech’s Counseling Center defines Impostor Syndrome as follows:
“Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.
Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.”
Students who have this feeling are in the company of those students who feel like they are living a lie. They are afraid of trying something because they are afraid they will be found out how much they don’t know. Some students feel like they shouldn’t have success because they are deceiving others of their ability. They hide because they don’t want to be “found out.”
Success by Luck
Some students feel they only had success because they had good luck. They didn’t earn it. They don’t have the confidence in their own abilities, and they probably couldn’t have that kind of success again. Its based something that happened externally that caused them to have the success.
Students who discount their success play down their abilities, and their success. They claim it “wasn’t hard”, or “not that important.” The problem is they don’t see how much they had to do to get to the point they are.
What can students do? Weir (2013) offers the following steps to overcome the belief that you do not measure up:
Talk to your mentors to recognize that the impostor feelings are both normal and irrational.
Recognize your expertise – tutor or work with younger students to realize how far you have come and how much knowledge you can impart
Remember what you do well by assessing your abilities and writing down what you are truly good at, and what areas might still need work.
Realize no one is perfect – so stop focusing on perfection. Do a task ‘well enough’ and then take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work. Celebrate achievements!
Change your thinking – reframe how you think about achievements. Let go of superstitions, spend less time perfecting that already-great assignment.
Talk to someone who can help – consider individual therapy to break the cycle of imposter thinking.
What can we teachers (and parents) do about this? Ian Byrd offers the following advice:
“Teachers, stay close to your students. Don’t let the brightest kids just work on their own. This increases the feelings of being an impostor. Give caring, honest feedback of how your best students can improve. Never give the impression that you think they’ve perfectly mastered a topic. They know they haven’t, and then they’ll stop trusting your praise.
Parents, connect your students with experts in their interests so they can get feedback and guidance from a master (whether that’s guitar playing, LEGO building, or acting). And don’t feel bad that your kids don’t trust your opinions! Encourage risk and accept mistakes. Don’t let the expectations of perfection cloud your students’ judgements.
Most of all, make your students aware of Impostor Syndrome, especially as they move along in their educational careers.”
Good advice indeed – I have a few students who have reached out to me about this, and I look forward to encouraging them to stay the course, and to sharing stories from my own journey.
I am working my way through a delightful textbook about teaching for my PID3260 class. In his “The Skillful Teacher” book, Stephen Brookfield spends an entire chapter on “Understanding and Responding to Classroom Emotions” and in particular on the topic of impostorship.
I struggled with Impostor Syndrome in the early days of my career, learning the ground rules of marketing practice. However, in due time these feelings abated as I gathered more experience and continued to progress through the rungs of my career. The same can be said about teaching – as a guest lecturer I had a story to tell in the short time of an hour or less; but when I was given responsibility for one class, and then a few more, I occasionally questioned my school’s sanity in handing over these young (and not so young) charges to my care. But we all did all right, and my confidence only grew. That ill feeling still comes back to haunt me from time to time, as I try new techniques in class or deviate from my lesson plan to show something new or try a new approach – but the fleeting feeling of “impostor!” fades away as I watch my students try these approaches and I make note whether to repeat this technique or not.
I am surprised, however, at how often I hear my students – young and older – mention that they feel out of place in university, or that they are “not good enough to be there”. It could be that they have been out of school for a long time, and find the routine of reading, thinking, writing a little overwhelming at first. It could also be that they are struggling with a new language, in addition to a new degree. Or they could feel intimidated by the more vocal students in the class, who speak often and provide good answers, and they feel at a disadvantage.
I am very glad when a student approaches me with this concern, because I have a chance to listen to their concerns, discuss the situation that troubles them, and hopefully change their mind and confirm that yes they made the right decision to be here, and yes they are progressing forward, not backwards, in their learning journey.
Brookfield (2015) lists the range of emotions inside of the classroom: “…[Students] talk about the exhilaration of intellectual stimulation, the anxiety of personal change, the pleasurable rush of self-confidence that comes from successful learning, and the shame of public humiliation that accompanies what they see as their failure” (pp. 55-56). Left untreated, the negative emotions diminish or extinguish engagement and can end the students’ careers as learners.
As instructors it is important to leave ourselves open to sharing about feelings of impostorship in our own lives (whether past or present) to open up the dialogue with students about their feelings and concerns. Admitting frailty, admitting struggles and sharing about one’s journey will open up the sharing of similar concerns by students. Brookfield states that “once impostorship is named as an everyday experience it loses much of its power” (p.59). By taking this feeling out of the secret realm, there is a “release of tension as the students recognize their own anxieties and perceptions in these words” (p.60).
Brookfield, S. D. (2015) The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.
I am enjoying reading the textbook for PID3260. When reading Stephen Brookfield’s wise words about his 30+ years of teaching, I was inspired to put to Canva the truths that Brookfield has established for himself about teaching. Now if only he wasn’t so wordy 🙂
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.