Thinking about Teaching
We know that psychology matters. It is easy to be both skeptical that psychologists can help us and at the same time willing to admit that psychological constructs can make sense. Carol Dweck’s mindset theory comes to mind. A review of some mindset literature in 2014 shows that psychological processes “act as levers in complex systems that give rise to social problems”. But these social problems – we can read teaching obstacles into this – can also be addressed and improved through what Gregory Walton of Stanford University calls “wise interventions”. Read the article for some fascinating examples and be challenged to think about the impact of your own “wise interventions” in your classroom.
Of course, psychology has had a bad rap. It seems focused on illness rather than on health; it can feel faddy as this school of thought battles with that school of thought; it uses language that can be impenetrable. The school of positive psychology has attempted to bring balance to this history. Its proponents see psychology as playing to people’s strengths and helping them be and remain healthy. Briefly, we introduce you to Martin Seligman who should be enormously influential in our classrooms. His 1991 book Learned Optimism will be the cheapest and most useful book you can buy this year. In it, Seligman lays out the clinical research for ways to “break up depression, boost your immune system, better develop your potential, and make you happier” that are under each child’s control and in ways that can be taught deliberately by adults. His work and Dweck’s work are complementary and come to the same conclusions. But Seligman’s book gives clear examples, questionnaires to use with children, and parent advice that would make great coffee conversations. Don’t just buy it. Read it. Use is on a daily basis.