Affirmation: Definition. a declaration that something is true.
We all appreciate affirmation from others. Confirmation that what we are doing is correct. Reassurance that we are on the right track. It helps our self-confidence, builds our motivation and allows us to take pride in our achievements. In education, it isn’t just pupils who appreciate this affirmation, but teachers and leaders. But whom do we seek reassurance from? And when does it become problematic?
We all hope our young people will value the feedback from a teacher and we hope that the affirmation they receive will buoy them; allowing them to continue to thrive. I recall my primary 1 son telling me excitedly one evening that Mrs McDaid had told him that P1b were the best class in the WHOLE school. Imagine that affirmation for a 6 year old! Positive reinforcement, which if said enough, might just be believed. Fast forward 10 years, and analyse the impact of a teachers’ encouraging words on a 16 year old. Is this affirmation still sought, and if so, is it just as influential?
I would argue that it most definitely can be, but only where a positive relationship has been built up and the conditions for receiving feedback have been well-established. And the converse of this is true. Where the relationship hasn’t been nurtured; where there isn’t trust or respect between learner and teacher, there is very little chance that the affirmation will be sought or indeed land with the intent desired.
Likewise, where affirmation of a particular negative trait of a pupil is shared with them, intentionally or unintentionally, this can have hugely damaging and detrimental impact. Especially if this is reinforced by others. Additionally, there often exists a tension between the affirmation from a teacher and the endorsement from peers. During adolescence this is a hugely challenging conundrum. How as teachers do we ensure learners are more interested in the stamp of approval from their teacher, than pleasing their peers? Creating a school or classroom culture where success, achievement and learning is celebrated and the social norm is to be motivated to learn, seeking affirmation from teachers goes some way to support this.
Teachers often seek affirmation too. From our students. From our colleagues. From our principal teacher. From leadership. From parents. Think back to being a student teacher and receiving affirmation from a mentor after an observed lesson. Positive comments on the lesson can be a real confidence boost. But how worthwhile is it, in helping teachers move forward? The feedback, needs to be directive and honest, and as a result is more likely be a real catalyst for improvement rather than an affirmation of the status quo. As Kim Scott discusses in ‘Radical Candour,’ ruinous empathy may be the positive affirmation we crave, because in the short term it massages our ego. But in order for affirmation to be challenging and productive, we need words which which are honest and true, yet which are caring and compassionate.
And it’s important to recognise that affirmation comes in many different guises. It may not be a professional conversation. Instead it may be the reassurance of positive behaviour or pupil engagement in learning. Exam results may provide some sense of affirmation that pupils have performed as predicted. The ethos within a classroom. Parental comments. Inspection reports. League tables. But like everything, affirmation from outwith comes with a health warning.
‘’Affirmation from others should be a supplement to our self-worth, not the basis for it. When the opinions of others hold too much power in our lives, our worth becomes dependent on how they perceive us. We could end up at the mercy of others’ opinions to maintain a positive self-image. Read more here
So we need to be careful of how we receive affirmation. Important as it is, we can’t let it become the be all and end all. Especially if our sole purpose becomes the affirmation from others. It’s often the case that negative feedback is ill-informed and lacks context. Is it truly affirmation if it is not accurate, and instead a perceived reality of others? We need to examine what is affirming and what is not. What might be accurate and therefore provide something we can learn from, and what needs to be brushed off?
In the age of social media, anyone can pass comment on a school without direct experience. Therefore, it’s important to call out when we recognise ignorance and react in a dignified way, because it can be detrimental to the whole school community. Remember, say it enough and they’ll believe it. Positive or negative.
The people who really know what is best for a school are those who are part of it – pupils, teachers, leaders and parents are those who can truly affirm the school experience. They live and breathe it. So let’s all assume the positive, in the affirmations we give and receive.
Have a great week.
Featured image, spider and young, my own.
We often talk about the impact that we as teachers have on young people. Helping them to see their potential, encouraging their success and supporting them to achieve their very best. But this post recognises the encouragement great teachers and leaders often give to colleagues, and the importance of those individuals who go beyond their day job, to take time to build others up and inspire through formal or informal mentorship.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to support aspiring teachers, student teachers, early career teachers, experienced teachers, new and established principal teachers over the last few years. It’s always a privilege to be able to tease out their confidence and help them to see their own strengths. Often the conversation is all they need. The opportunity to share and clarify their thinking which gives them confidence they need in whatever situation they find themselves in. I’ve listened to worries, concerns and frustrations. I’ve been asked searching questions or my opinion on moral dilemmas. I’ve offered advice on application forms and supported individuals prepare for interviews. I’ve reminded colleagues of their worth, of gaining perspective and the need for balance. I’ve been there when colleagues have been successful and shared disappointment when something was not meant to be. I hope I’ll always be someone who makes time for this and who colleagues feel they can come to for this support. Because in my own career, this has made a huge difference to me.
All teachers are truly brilliant, but sometimes in education, you will find a small number of individuals whose values, energy and purpose totally aligns with your own. You will look up to them. You will be inspired by them. And you will learn so much from them. Find these people, hold them close and use their experience to help you be the best you can be.
For me, many of these inspirational mentors are people I haven’t even met! But they build me up. They keep me right. And their support, when I’ve needed it, has been invaluable. From taking time for a phone call to talk through an issue I’m experiencing in school, to giving me honest, direct and practical feedback on an application form. They’ve thought of me and given me opportunities to shine. They’ve connected me to other colleagues. They’ve encouraged me when I’ve doubted myself. They’ve been a cheerleader when I’ve been successful, and even more so when I’ve not been experiencing success. They’ve helped me to become the teacher and leader I am today. And I’m incredibly grateful for that. These acts of mentorship don’t need to be formal. They very often aren’t. They may not officially be mentors, but are instead good people, being good role models and being incredibly good with their time. Through them, others are being given opportunities to thrive. Colleagues are inspired to be even better. And ultimately it is our young people who benefit from this act of paying it forward.
Always remember to look back. Never be too busy. Or too important. Because not long ago the person asking for the help was you.
Have a great week.
Coding develops cognitive skills, problem solving and analytical thinking ("computational thinking"). By introducing and developing these abilities from primary school onwards, we create the building blocks and thought processes necessary for robotics and AI. This is not about displacing traditional subjects but, rather, changing the emphasis. Coding can comfortably sit alongside other subjects, especially those with a creative slant, reinforcing the development of key skills through multiple channels.
Coding develops cognitive skills, problem solving and analytical thinking (“computational thinking”). By introducing and developing these abilities from primary school onwards, we create the building blocks and thought processes necessary for robotics and AI. This is not about displacing traditional subjects but, rather, changing the emphasis. Coding can comfortably sit alongside other subjects, especially those with a creative slant, reinforcing the development of key skills through multiple channels.
Coding certainly can develop cognitive skills, problem solving and analytical thinking. A lot of other things can too. I think it is difficult.
Any class will present a wide range of learners. Designing or adapting lessons to try and get as many of them in the right zone to develop these skills is tricky. If you don’t get this right coding is neither productive or fun.
The article notes:
. Coding can comfortably sit alongside other subjects, especially those with a creative slant, reinforcing the development of key skills through multiple channels.
I’ve certainly found that putting coding into a context can lead to more fun and success. By adding elements art or making to a coding project more pupils are involved in problem solving, collaboration and creativity.
A difficulty in managing this might be the perceive need to be an expert in several different areas. I’ve certainly found myself in situations where I’ve not be completely confident around some of these areas.
The article acknowledges that covid has had an effect:
It is a reasonable assumption that this immersion in IT and technology is preparing young people for a digital future and teaching them the skills they will need.
But we need pupils to be creators as well as users:
there is a largely unrecognised digital difference between the users of technology and the creators
I think there is also a gap around literacy and the problems that the mixing of commercial and educational interests in technology. A lot of the uptake in digital solutions lacks any questioning of the provides of these solutions.
This is something I am not very sure I’d know where to start with? Perhaps Coding is not ‘fun’, it’s technically and ethically complex:
In just a few years, understanding programming will be an indispensable part of active citizenship. The idea that coding offers an unproblematic path to social progress and personal enhancement works to the advantage of the growing techno-plutocracy that’s insulating itself behind its own technology.
I tell you
I teach you
The facts, the information, the knowledge.
I repeat, review, re-phrase
Recognise the resistance
Re-double my efforts.
I get frustrated.
Why can’t you
Do as I say
Not as I did?
I don’t want you to make the same mistakes
I can’t bear to see you suffer the same pains
I shudder in the imagining of the same risks
History must not repeat.
Unless it must.
Do the best teachers tolerate this?
Loving so hard that they let go
Never saying I told you so
Having faith it won’t be so
And if it is, just being there
And helping mend those pieces.