Most spiders have four pairs of eyes, which enable them to see what is happening all around them. And most teachers can only wish they had the same ability.
Good teachers do appear to have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ though. They seem able to sense not just when a student is confused or off task, but even the moment before they are about to go off-task. This ability is sometimes referred to as ‘with-it-ness’, a term coined by the educationalist, Jacob Kounin (1977). Through observing many different classes, Kounin came to the conclusion that the most effective teachers were able to pick up on quite subtle changes in their students’ emotions and behaviour and respond quickly and effectively.
More recently, Robert Marzano (2003) wrote a summary of more than 100 experiments designed to find out which classroom management techniques caused the biggest decrease in disruptions. He looked at explaining and negotiating rules, relationships between teachers and students, rewards and punishments and what he called ‘mental set’. This last was a combination of awareness, or with-it-ness, and a conscious control over how the teacher responded to a disruption.
He found that, by quite some margin, mental set had the biggest positive effect, reducing the number of disruptions by 40%.
What Marzano refers to as mental set could equally well be called mindful awareness, meaning that a more mindful teacher can expect a considerably less disruptive classroom, and by extension, his or her students can expect to do better overall.
In my workshop at IATEFL Brighton 2018 (Mindfulness for ELT Teachers and students, Tuesday 14.55-15.40, Room 6 )I am going to be looking at how teachers can use mindfulness techniques to become more aware of what is happening around them in the classroom, and to respond to difficult behaviour in a more objective, calmer way. We’ll also look at some techniques you can use in the classroom to help your students gain a better mental set.