Shifting the mindset of teaching community


Dr Jeny Rapheal

A shift of mindset begins only from a felt need for change. To generate this need, teaching community should be kept exposed to new facts and findings intermittently. Knowledge and information about novel ways of teaching and dealing with the students should relentlessly invade the attention of the teachers.

My father reminisces his Maths teacher who used to beat him harshly for not reciting the multiplication table properly. Now in his seventies, he is full of admiration and gratitude for the punitive ways of his high school teacher. He says with much conviction that it was the punishment he received which moulded his learning habit and helped him to have a strong foundation in Mathematics.

Now I am a teacher of Mathematics. If I apply what my father said in my classroom, I will be thrown out. When Kerala government released a circular banning corporal punishment, many teachers (need not exempt me) laughed at the “ignorance” of the government. Because they too, like my father, believe that punishment is needed to push the children who are lazy and irresponsible.

Fixed mindsets

There are educators who still eulogize old ways of dealing with students. There are teachers who view psychology’s invasion into teaching untoward and inappropriate. Psychological findings seem to have that power to disturb or unsettle the mindset of the teaching community.

Mindsets which are fixed or rebel against any, call for a change. When psychological findings declare that academic stress can annul students’ interest in learning, neutralize motivation to learn and the students’ psychological need for autonomy should be fulfilled to sustain motivation, the psychology as a fact-finding discipline is calling for a revolutionary change in the preconceived notions about teaching. It is exhorting to replace old beliefs with facts that have been established scientifically.

Fixed mindsets prefer beliefs to facts. It is easy to believe. You believe in something of which you haven’t any clue. Till the science could declare that earth is not flat but round we believed in the flatness of the earth.

When you believe in something, you need not search for the facts. You need not verify what you believe. Because beliefs can stick to your mind without taking route through rational causation. Certain personal beliefs on following for a long time become guiding facts as mind manages to find supportive evidence in due course. This supportive evidence may be illusory or even a fallacy. But vicious cycle continues. The belief of some teachers in the power of corporal punishment to chase away student disinterest and laziness is a reflection of their fixed mindset.

Science can see what teachers miss to see

It is true that student laziness and laxity in the classroom is difficult to tolerate. But modern science says we must tolerate. As science sees laziness from very different angles and according to it, there are many reasons for student laziness which a teacher need not be able to perceive. For example, laziness can be genetic. SLC35D3 is the scientific name of the gene capable of transmitting the trait called laziness from parents to their progenies (Jennifer Welsh,2012). Or it may be due to high levels of dopamine in certain regions of the brain like anterior insula (Lizette Borreli,2014). Yet, faulty parenting or teaching can cause disinterest in learning. On knowing these facts, teachers will be forced to reconsider the efficacy of laziness – punishment connection.

When teachers are advised to resort to better motivational strategies other than punishment in order to deal with student laziness or leniency, it is a cry from the world of scientific research to pay attention to the facts it has uncovered about the human psyche and its functioning.

When policymakers produce mandatory orders for ensuring quality teaching inside the classroom, it is a request to the teachers to search for newer avenues and possibilities. Those orders imply that there are evidence-based strategies that can be tried more effectively inside the classroom.

Technologizing teaching–learning interface is still a distant dream Indian school system. Attempts made in this line has brought the entire system into a state of transition. The most painful part of any process of transition is liberating the human mind from the past outdated methods. And education system of India, especially of Kerala, is slowly becoming aware of the pain.

Who fixed the mindset of professionals?

Indian education system is reeling under the fixed mindset of the teaching community. Addiction of teaching community to their comfort zones is one of the main reasons for the subaltern standard of Indian education system. But teachers cannot be blamed for this. This addiction is somewhat system induced.

A mindset becomes malleable when it is constantly bombarded with new information based on concrete scientifically proved facts. A teaching group who have unfailing continuous exposure to concrete facts published from the research endeavors in the science of learning and teaching can never remain fixed and rigid. No Indian teacher is adequately updated in new research findings. They are ignorant about the importance of social science research outcomes in effective teaching.

A recent survey (interview) among 64 high school teachers in our locality, who have been through 10 years in the field of teaching revealed that they haven’t any clue about scientific research findings released in psychology and education. There were hardly any who knew top twenty principles of teaching published by American Psychological Association. Less than 1% of teachers were familiar with the concept of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) which is getting spread like a wildfire among educational institutions of the western system. They were oblivious to the information that “metacognition” as a strategy if applied in teaching and learning, can work wonders and ensure steady student involvement in learning.

In his article titled “Unlocking the science of thinking,” Daniel T Willingham conveys a handful of methods for translating scientific observations into classroom applications.

Who cares about these subtle but scientifically proved facts which if tried, can revolutionalize teaching?

Actual change – still an enigma

Amidst all pandemonium for change, it is imperative that we pay attention to the silent bitter facts about the Indian school system in this 21st century.

Recently published editorial of Times of India (Feb 26, 2018) reports that according to National Achievement Survey (NAS, 2017) class II, V and VII students tested on subjects like math, language and sciences suffer declining learning outcomes with higher classes scoring fewer marks. Teachers need better training and curriculum and study material must converge with capacities of teachers and students. The time for assessment is over.”

In the same vein they report, “the elementary decision to crack down on cheating forced 10 lakh UP board students to drop out of Class X and XII exams. But stopping mass cheating was the easier part. Such mass dropouts underline a crying need to improve teaching and learning systems, especially as technological disruption through automation and robotics is poised to eliminate many lakh unskilled jobs”.

Also, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for rural India declares that according to a survey carried out in 28 districts across 24 states among 14-18-year-old students, one-fourth of the students are incapable to read their own language fluently while 57% of them struggled to solve a simple sum of division.

Hitting the mindsets through causation

As an intellectual being, any teaching professional will be ready to change their mindset only if they have concrete, evidence-based facts about the prospective changes they are required to shift into. Otherwise, a mind which functions on the fundamental principles of causation will never budge from what they followed so far. They will move with their assumptions gleaned from their classroom teaching experiences about the best ways of dealing with the students. They will keep on concretizing their assumptions with help of limited, perhaps invalid evidence.

To alter the mental model with which teachers view teaching, an overhaul in the systemic practices is needed. Make research activities an integral part of school teaching. Carefully articulated strategies must be implemented in order to translate research findings in classroom settings on a war footing.

Here are some tips:

  • Emphasis given to research in the curriculum of teacher training must be increased.
  • Once in the profession, research activities must be made an integral part of teaching.
  • Scientific research results tried and tested in one’s professional space must be published in journals meant for school teaching. This must be made a mandatory requirement.
  • Replication of at least one of already published research findings in psychology/education must be made a mandatory professional responsibility.
  • Each school or a cluster of schools must run a journal for scientific studies done in their working space.

These activities can verily reduce the gulf between research and teaching. The need for change arises when one feels some sort of inadequacy within the system. Or the need for change becomes a passion when one comes to know that there are better ways for executing the things. A shift of mindset begins only from a felt need for change. To generate this need, teaching community should be kept exposed to new facts and findings intermittently. Knowledge and information about novel ways of teaching and dealing with the students should relentlessly invade the attention of the teachers. Teachers must develop that professional habit of tuning into latest research findings. Otherwise, a professional mind which is already set can never be shifted for better outcomes.

Dr Jeny Rapheal’s qualifications include PhD from Bharathiar University; MSc (Mathematics) from Calicut University; MSc(Psychology) from Madras University; and BEd from Calicut University.

She was a High School Teacher from 1997-2000 at Ansar English Medium School, followed by Higher Secondary School Teacher from 2000-2016 at AIHSS, Padoor. She also did Clinic Counseling for 1 year at Co-operative Hospital Thrissur. She has 20 research papers to her credit.