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The good old days…?

Raymond Soltysek: Senior Trainer

This week’s blog post is written by Raymond Soltysek, our Senior Trainer: “Having worked as a teacher for 18 years and as a teacher education for 17 years before returning to the classroom and trying my hand at some new things-  including working for Pivotal Education as a Senior Trainer- I often feel I’ve been in this career since the days of Hansom cabs and gas lighting; and in all those years, I’ve heard a few pieces of advice that are just as old fashioned as those.

I remember giving new, young teachers what I thought was wise advice, because the same advice was given to me: you don’t need the children to like you. I used it to persuade those new teachers that they didn’t have to be smiley, friendly and chatty: they just needed to concentrate on their lessons, meet their targets and get the assessment done. That was their job- or so I thought.

Of course, we’ve learnt so much in the last two or three decades about how childrens’ brains work. We know how the amygdala operates, how much it regulates our emotions and influences our reactions. We know the effects of cortisol and adrenaline on children’s emotional responses, and we know how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can damage their limbic systems almost irreparably. We know how neural pathways are hardwired in the early stages of childhood, and how we have to work hard to overwrite the harm done by particular types of experiences at that age.

Neurologically, my pupils need to like me…

It was one of those light bulb moments in my career when I realised I was looking at it all from the wrong angle. Yes, it’s true I don’t need my pupils to like me: but that’s not the point, because the truth is that neurologically, chemically, biologically, cognitively – the children need to like me. 

It depresses me that there is still debate about how we should treat children, about the emotional ‘me’ we should present to them. Even in the past few weeks, a Twitter debate raged about whether or not ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’ was appropriate guidance for new teachers. I can’t believe that anyone who has seen the class Still Face Experiment would doubt for one moment that the power of a smile – or doubt the power of damage that can be caused by denying that smile.

So now, i’m utterly convinced that I need to do those things that make children like me. Of course, there are many who play the false dichotomy game who will say I’m being ‘soft on them‘, that I’m ‘pandering to them‘ for popularity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pupil centred approaches such as Pivotal’s prove that we can be strict without being cruel, we can insist on high standards without being aggressive, we can set boundaries without being punitive. It demands patience and professionalism and perseverance, but with the right training; it is very achievable.

Besides, who wants to be grumpy all the way to Christmas?”

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