New School: Choosing New Friends.

A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.”  Unknown.

“A man is known by the company he keeps.”  Proverb.  Euripides.

The choice of friends is one of the most important and far-reaching decisions all students have to make.  Many research studies and empirical evidence show clearly that friends can have a huge impact on your life.  The friends you choose can influence or determine how you think and behave.  Choosing friends well is a very important skill that all students do not possess.  Over the years I have seen many students excel at school or underachieve and become disruptive, largely as a result of the direct influence of their chosen circle of friends.  Parents and teachers need to guide students in the selection of their friends, although this may be difficult at times.

Here are a few guidelines relative to the choice of friends, that most educators agree on.  Choose serious friends who value schoolwork, respect school rules and who are academically well-organized.  They generally have positive goals in life and work to achieve them.  You can help and inspire each other to attain success.  You can form very effective study groups and participate in extra-curricular activities together, to your mutual benefit and the benefit of the school.  Choose friends who will help you to realize your dreams.  Real friends will not encourage you to do anything wrong.

Avoid choosing friends who do not value schoolwork and who tend to be disruptive.  Reject any tendency on your part to be like them in order to gain acceptance from their group.  They will subject you to negative peer pressure and if they are popular and influential you may not resist.  Think for yourself, decide what is best for you and ignore negative peer pressure.  This is hard to do for some students who want to belong to a group at any cost, and gain the approval of that group; even if it means refusing to work seriously or breaking the school rules and getting into trouble.  For students who lack strength of character, peer pressure can become more important than parental or school values.  Be strong.  always let your thoughts, words and actions reflect what is best for you.

Develop self-discipline and self-control.  Do not choose friends who want to stop you from being your true self and do not let friends choose your behaviour and actions for you.  Define yourself and choose accordingly.  Drop friends who do not share your values and interests.

There is a well-known proverb which states “Birds of a feather flock together.”  Choose your friends wisely since students and people in general tend to mimic the values and behaviour of their friends for better or worse.  You can often predict how a student will perform and behave by observing the friends he or she chooses.

Oral Participation

A wise man speaks because he has something to say, a fool speaks because he has to say something.”  – Plato.

Student oral participation in the classroom is often underused and undervalued in secondary schools.  I am using the term “student participation” to include all forms of oral student contribution to learning during lessons.  This ranges from voluntary information and responses to questions asked by the teacher, to formal individual and group oral presentations, role-playing, debates and discussions.  Oral participation by students is a great learning and assessment tool and I would recommend that more teachers add it to their assessment methods every term.  It can be used in any subject area.

Some students naturally ask a lot of questions and give useful information to the class.  They should be rewarded for this and teachers need to encourage more students to do so by calling on the more silent ones to answer questions or explain appropriate elements of the classwork or homework to their classmates.  Over the term everyone can be assessed for oral participation.

For more formal oral presentations, the teacher chooses the topics and students can use the chalkboard and any other helpful media they can find.  Time limits are given for the presentations so that all individuals and groups can be accommodated over a reasonable period of time.

While any individual student or group is doing an oral presentation, the teacher and the other students are free to ask questions at any time, make comments or challenge points the presenters make.  The teacher can supply any important points omitted by the presenters or correct mistakes at the end of the session.  The other students can take notes and a test can be given after the teacher deems that everyone has met the relevant learning goals.  Of course, students are given marks or grades for their presentations.

Students generally enjoy oral participation in class and it enhances learning and critical thinking.  They get immediate feedback from classmates and teachers.  They have to learn the material thoroughly in order to explain it and this improves their metacognitive skills.  Being questioned or challenged forces them to think quickly.  Everyone ends up with new knowledge and skills and this is a welcome break from teacher-centred lessons.  Oral presenters also improve their communication skills and self-confidence.

Some teachers may find oral participation and presentation in the classroom somewhat time consuming and noise levels may increase at times.  However, the advantages definitely outweigh these disadvantages.  In addition, good public speaking skills are valuable.  Interested readers can also peruse “Benefits of Student Verbal Presentations To the Classby Gilda Haber.

Teacher Power

What a teacher writes on the blackboard of life can never be erased.”  – Author Unknown.

French and Raven (1959) identified five forms of power that teachers and other leaders use: Attractive (Referent) Power, Expert Power, Reward Power, Coercive Power, and Position (Legitimate) Power.  These are all used in varying degrees and combinations at different times in the classroom and any other workplace.  Hurt, Scott, and McCroskey (1978), state that in the classroom “a certain degree of teacher power is always present.”  Indeed, if teachers do not exercise the various forms of power at their disposal, they would not be able to manage their classrooms properly.

However, the purpose of this post is not to examine these five forms of teacher power in detail, in an abstract manner,  but within the context of the power that teachers have to develop their students and shape their future lives.  The power to turn them on or off academically, stimulate or dampen their minds and heighten or destroy their engagement and intellectual curiosity. Students never forget good or bad teachers and many of them return, years later, to thank the good teachers who inspired them and helped them to achieve success in school and in life.  This is one of the highest rewards a teacher can receive.

Highly skilled and caring teachers, who earn those rewards, understand that coercive power and position power alone are not enough to create nurturing relationships and a classroom climate which is conducive to optimal student learning. Sometimes these teachers are more influential than parents and they must take this responsibility seriously.  Skilled teachers rely more on communication, student participation, and positive relationships to get students to work.  Students should be heard in the classroom.  Their views are important and they should be expressed without fear of failure or ridicule.

Teachers who use their power wisely are keenly aware that they have multiple responsibilities towards their charges. They are equally aware that their students’ behaviour and academic progress depend to a large extent on how well they, as teachers, meet those responsibilities.  In terms of discipline they are firm, fair and consistent.

They never shortchange their students.  They respect their responsibility to do all they can to enhance student learning.  To this end, they take responsibility for their own professional development and seek every opportunity to improve their teaching.  They often sacrifice personal time to assist struggling students.  They also take the time to know their students and their individual social, emotional, and academic needs.  These teachers tend to concentrate more on their attractive, expert, and reward power.

They know that getting students to like them, within reason, is half the battle won.  An attractive personality is an asset and it is a fact that students generally work harder for the teachers they like and respect.  It is also known that students are impressed by, and tend to admire and emulate teachers who are experts in their subject areas. Rewarding students for good academic performance and conduct speaks for itself.  The judicious use of teacher power is a valuable tool in shaping student performance and in the attainment of school goals.

Raven (1965) added a sixth form of power: Informational Power, to the list.  This is demonstrated when you give information to someone which causes them to change how they think and act.  Constant awareness of teacher power leads to more effective teaching.