Look, No Supervision!

workplaceTo have a teacher teaching you is of great advantage. We often do not realize its full merit. What if one is not available or present at the moment you are in need of learning help? Can you cope, or will you drop your learning endeavor altogether. No teach, no gain. Often we get trapped in situations in which we have to ‘learn’, acquire new knowledge while sheer ignorance is the basic line. Imagine opening your just delivered package with an all-purpose kitchen cooking blender, or a self-assembly wardrobe from a famous, brand notorious for its detailed instructions. After the first panic you start rebalancing your emotions and will conquer your feelings of despair to look for helpful scaffolds – strong clues on how ‘on earth’ to understand what to do next and grasp the meaning of things (1). It would be nice if such clues were lying around from the start of your discovery journey. It would safe time, it would avoid redoing everything after noticing you see a construction piece still in front of you, it would save a lot of sweat and tears.

A study on learning at the workplace gauged how learning may be supported in the absence of supervision and found that newly recruited workers did remarkably well without direct supervision provided enough scaffolds where existent. The learning help arounds were experienced other workers, peers, guiding instructions, organized set ups of the work environments. When engaging in such a learning design they gradually reduced their felt need of learning support.

Environments can teach, rich environments that is. No, not rich, since that could lead to a learner “buried in thought” about the many options offered, but instead what you could call a ‘powerful’ learning environment; one that provides the right kind of scaffolds without arranging your trails as a training camp. The key point here is that it is not so much about having supervision or not , or sufficient teachers around but carefully adjusting, if you will reducing, the kind of (teaching persons or environmentally designed) help so that learners can decide on and are encouraged to interact with what puzzles them. Teachers stand on others’ threshold of discovery, after that it is up to the learner.


Palesy, D. Learning in the Absence of Direct Supervision: Person-Dependent Scaffolding. In: Vocations and Learning (2017). doi:10.1007/s12186-017-9176-9



  1. http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/ignorance_trap.htm
  2. https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/5-2-what-is-a-learning-environment/



Harness Yourself

harnasFeedback can kill you, negative feedback that is. Getting no feedback about your performance has a similar effect. That leaves us with positive feedback. But yeah, just getting positive feedback does not feel right as well. “ Oh; Wow, did you just draw that beautiful vase with flowers?”; “Yes, well, actually it’s more like a …. (Sigh) ”.  Feedback can hurt your self-concept so badly, you just may even quit what you like (1). That is even the case when your actual performance is not that bad at all. So, irrespective of what you are able to do feedback can bring you down no matter. Take the case of two learners confronted with (negative) feedback: one with a high self-concept of ability while doing low in performance, and the other with a modest perception of competence while actually doing quite well also.  What would you think will happen to their motivation after a bad appraisal? (2)

These intrinsic motivation effects were gauged in a study on students’ self-concepts after having received negative feedback. It turned out that despite positive learning goal orientations and irrespective of the real outcomes of their task behavior students’ self-concepts declined after having negative feedback and did drop their motivation to do a subsequent task .

Back to the case above. You might have thought that the first student expecting a low rating, gets away with no (great) harm to self-concept, and that it is the second one who got the real blow. But it is not that straightforward given the outcomes of the study. Realistic self-assessments (in both students) can be overruled by feedback nevertheless.

We care about what other’s think of us – we seek it even. Polls, ratings, evaluations, it is all part of our feedback mania.

The tricky part is that realistic self-perceptions are not a safeguard. You might think you are doing well and even may be right in that self-assessment but when others present you with negative comments it will affect you nonetheless.

Harness yourself then and scrutinize your appraisals: as a well meant recommendation to all students stepping into the grading and examination period ahead.



Why does intrinsic motivation decline following negative feedback? The mediating role of ability self-concept and its moderation by goal orientations by Anne F.Weidinger , Birgit Spinath, Ricarda Steinmayr, in Learning and Individual Differences 47 (2016) 117–128

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2016.01.003 1041-6080/© 2016 Elsevier Inc.



  1. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-take-misery-out-giving-feedback-neena-newberry
  2. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/quizzes/selfesteem/

School Is Out

schoolWhen you come to think of it schools (and our education system for that matter) must be one of the last remains of 19th century thinking still active in our society. It is driven by a world view in which goals are achieved through hard industrious labor (you have to study hard and continuously), agency is confined to specially designed buildings (you have to visit classrooms) and restricted to time tables, interactions are top down driven (you have to comply to assigned tasks), authority is in de hand of a senior overseer (you are being told what to do), and results are valued as end-products (once it is done it is finished). These restraints are all set in place to objectify and define learners as subjects (1). No escape allowed from the system other than being penalized.

Confessed, there have been more eloquent, comprehensive, and thought provoking criticisms of education, but the aim is similar, i.e., to rethink the structure and process of how we educate. This is done out of a real concern, looking at  present day demands of school learning.

A collection of chapters in a book on student engagement captures most of the key conceptions to be considered when it comes to a revised way of thinking about school education. Its main thread is to promote manifold partnerships of students, teachers, and school managers around their shared business of learning. Goals are open-ended formulated; activity is flexibly organized, interaction is based on equality, and outcomes are considered as stepping stones to higher goals.

As 19th century institutions schools can not accommodate partnership; it is alien to its inherent education view. As 21th century institutions a view would entail learning which is on demand, extended to different locations and times for learning, and highly adaptive to evolving learning needs. It is then that the word ‘school’ is not implying a building but “Bildung’, as a synonym for Building Your Future. It certainly would give the phrase: “I want to come to school more” (4) a new meaning.


Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: a guide for faculty, by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill, and Peter Felten, San Francisco, CA, Jossey Bass, 2014, xxix + 269 pp., £28.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-118-43458-1

Reviewed by Colin Bryson (2016) Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education, International Journal for Academic Development, 21:1, 84-86,  link to this article:




  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
  2. http://www.ips.org.pk/education/1111-a-critical-review-of-the-aims-of-education-in-the-western-tradition-
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bildung
  4. http://www.lyricsdepot.com/alice-cooper/schools-out.html


Happy Teachers

dolphsDo we need to like our teachers in order to learn? If that’s true our learning is in peril. Not all teachers are likable persons (to you). They too have their attitudes. Suppose you wind up with a teacher who really makes a mesh of your comfort zone. Is that the end of a learning relationship? Yes, learning would be in peril but let’s face it, you are a strong person, and probably get over it, thinking of better times ahead, assertive as you are by raising the issue  with your teacher in hope of improvements. The relationships you have with your teacher are powerful. They shape the kind of interactions and are influential when it comes to your personal well-being. As with all human relationships your interactions are a two-sided affair. If one person fails to deliver the other is in jeopardy. So again we can ask: is a happy teacher a requisite for you to be happy, moreover for you to be learning ?

A recent news item in a Belgian newspaper (1) commended a study done at the University of Antwerp saying that happy teachers make happy students. Apart from the implied causality, it is a devastating outcome. It says in fact students need to like their teacher (to be able to be content with themselves).

Another study (See below) takes this a step further by making an explicit link to learning, claiming that tough teachers raise tough students. Such students set high achievements goals for themselves.  A poor student who does not match with a teacher.

Nobody would deny that teachers act as important role models to students, certainly at a young age. But teachers and students are well aware they communicate in service of the act of learning (2) . It is not that teachers primarily want to be liked or that a student’s first priority is to like their teacher. Both players in a (safe) classroom environment are well aware they are there for a common cause which needs to turn out well (for both of them).  So put learning first and happiness (delight) will come (Motto of this blog).


Liking a tough teacher: Interpersonal characteristics of teaching and students’ achievement goals by Tim Mainhard in School Psychology International 2015, Vol. 36(6) 559–574 sagepub.co.uk/journals Permissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0143034315608235



  1. http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20170330_02809107
  2. https://learningfirst.com/



A Different Choice

strijdWe all have to make choices. Difficult as they may seem we do manage more or less to cope with the implicated confusions that go along with getting what we want. Game theory puts forward we have great ability in dealing with tricky, intricate dilemmas and get out of them most of the time in a satisfying manner (not all the times though)(1) . How else could we enter a shopping mall willingly or leave a clothes store with the right kind of purchases.  We learn to weigh our wishes and wants against the needs and necessities. Admitted, it may take a while before we get the hang of it, but actually it is amazing that in the end we are able (1) . And no, this is not the place to throw in all kinds of prejudices about gender or age related choice behaviors; for instance on shopping (2). Instead, yes, it would be important to raise the issue of making the right choices. Having myriad options how then can we make the right choice; and above all, can there be a right one? (3). In essence this question introduces a third party between you and the issue at hand. Then it becomes not shall I buy this sweater, instead it becomes should I buy it at all? Is it okay if I…. which makes things complicated – especially for the young and ignorant.

This is exactly what was studied in a piece of research on kindergarten children’s choice behavior when having them decide between learn or play. Kids in China and the USA were involved. Opinions were collected which showed that the importance of learning was acknowledged wholeheartedly. But although they were well aware of its importance when it came to choose in actual situations, the kids went for play. Yes, the Chinese kids were more reluctant to give in, but did eventually as well.

Did the kids make the right choice? When taking the third party,  i.e.,  God’s eye, perspective of Right and Wrong, the decision that was made is, may be, hard to defend (however, should they have selected learning?) but the affordances of a direct encounter with an inviting situation demand a careful weighing of options (3) . It is never that we do make decisions in isolation. In this case and for that occasion personal values and autonomy prevailed. Who is to judge what is right or wrong then?


Play or learn: European-American and Chinese kindergartners’ perceptions about the conflict between learning and play. By Jin Li,  in British Journal of Educational Psychology (2016), 86, 57–74 © 2015 The British Psychological Society



  1. http://www.franksonnenbergonline.com/blog/7-ways-to-make-good-choices/
  2. https://simplelifestrategies.com/sls-choices/
  3. https://philosophynow.org/issues/1/Making_Decisions

Like Teacher, Like Pupil


It is a great thing, of course, when you really can connect with your teacher, experience classroom as a comfort zone where you may thrive and succeed. It certainly helps when it comes to learning (1) . But what if not? A lot needs to be in place before feeling okay with your teacher. Not in the least how your teacher responds to you. Does s(h)e knows the real you when it comes to: your preferred style in learning, your favorite interests, your fears in coping with assignments, your learning troubles,  the issues you have with your classroom peers?  Good teachers come a long way in their ‘knowledge of the learner’, but, say with addressing 30 of you in a class, it is demanding. It is almost impossible to satisfy all demands to the full. After all, teachers are humans too. They have preferences and styles of their own which shape the classroom to make it a ‘home’ for all students. The truth is some students thrive better than others in the livable space a teacher creates in a classroom. This would become a real disaster when teachers all would be Pygmalion (the sculptor who fell in love with his own sculpture). Unfortunately, there is evidence to the fact that they are.

An Israeli study assessed teachers’ motivation to teach, specifically with regard to their preference on student autonomy. It turned out that teachers who are high in autonomous motivation themselves stress autonomous learning in their students and adopt an autonomy-supportive style in their teaching, expecting that student are taking control over their own learning.

If teachers were sculptors the obvious inference would be that teachers should encourage learning styles in their students similar to their own. Moreover, because we, in general, favor independent learning and autonomous motivation in students (3) we need to hire teachers who have such a preference. The study’s conclusion seems to point in that direction. Perfect matches are nice but also highly unlikely, certainly when you look at a classroom community. You will find a rich variation in styles, motivation, preferences, and needs. It is not so much that we need to redirect this variation into one liking. It would be better to accept them and help teachers to deal with them for the benefit of student learning . After all teachers are not sculptors.


What makes a motivating teacher? Teachers’ motivation and beliefs as predictors of their autonomy-supportive style by: Idit Katz, Bat-Hen Shahar, in: School Psychology International 2015, Vol. 36(6) 575–88 sagepub.co.uk/ DOI: 10.1177/0143034315609969



  1. http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Positive-Classroom-Atmosphere
  2. http://www.shmoop.com/pygmalion/
  3. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/linguafolio/5574


10 Top Educators of All Times


The Internet loves lists. Many times you will find something like: The 10 Most…, The Top…, or Best of…. In a recent survey published on the Internet (1) Former President Barak Obama was ranked  12th on a list of best Presidents of the USA. This was done by historians. So why not have a top list of educators as well? It would be a wonderful initiative to start an International Year of Education. Did you know that the last one, instigated by UNESCO, was in 1970? Almost 50 years ago (2) . Time for a recurrence. Great pedagogues have been there in all times, innovating and renewing what we teach, and learn,  the way we build our schools and arrange our classrooms. It is they who gave us direction in how we educate from a young age till late in our lives. So who are they who framed an important and substantial part of our life? Some names comes immediately to mind, others may sound less familiar, or are even unknown to a greater audience. In a preparation for such a survey or poll of Top Educators of All Times a list of nominees, say The Top 10, would be helpful. What to think of: (not yet a ranking or priority listing! – that is for others to decide).

.. Socrates: for bringing us the important tool of questioning and keep on asking, both as a means for teachers and students.

..Comenius: who gave us the textbook containing illustrations (Orbis Pictus) to visualize and explicate better what we learn.

.. Pestalozzi. He was one of the first to center on the child as a learner and brought interest and motivation of the learner to the forefront of teaching.

.. Montessori. She helped us to modify and differentiate instruction to the level and pace of the learner.

These names may have set their marks on collective memory and also can be recognized in for instance the names of our schools.

But let’s continue with some less obvious, but still hugely influential pedagogues:

.. Bell & Lancaster. These innovators shaped the face of our classrooms, introducing the sitting arrangement facing up towards the blackboard with the teacher up front (not so popular anymore but still globally adopted).

.. Makarenkov. This Russian educator during Soviet times who renewed education in making it practice oriented, stressing activity and hands on involvement of learners.

.. Dewey. The American innovator of education who immensely influenced generations of educators with his ideas. His project method designed instruction in a completely different way.

..an Nazzam. This Arab poet and originator of Madrasa schools recognized the importance of memorization and the place of rehearsal in education.

.. Ellen Key. A Swedish feminist activist who put the child on the agenda of education and advocated the child centered approach

.. Fannie Williams. She was the force behind education for the young children, at kindergarten age, and health care to be able to participate in education.

There should be an extra and prominent slot for the ‘forgotten educator’  as well;  the silent one, the one that teaches and educates now and forever, all the time. That is to say the good teachers who work daily in our schools doing their utmost to help the ones entrusted to them to have good education



  1. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/all-time-best-president-united-states-rankings-235149

2. http://www.un.org/en/sections/observances/international-years/

Influencing People


Wouldn’t it be wonderful when people would actually do what you tell them to do? Well, of course not. It may be a leadership sigh or wishful dream but ultimately it would turn against an effective change. Frankly, it’s impossible to yell your way to success. So, what would it take going together into a desired direction? Is it perhaps by the People’s Will, establishing a kind of populist social contract (what Rousseau -1- had in mind in his version of democracy)? That would essentially mean a ruling of the loudest voices. Or is it better to call in Leviathan in an effort to silence voices and follow the leader for the benefit and safeguard of all (2). The ancient citizens of Athens knew it could be beneficial to have a dictator from time to time to clear the skies. To run a country or a school for that matter requires a careful way of influencing people for the benefit of all – it is a leadership obligation and a responsibility to which they are accountable. Some leaders are good at influencing people and others are simply appalling. Now, book shelves cannot hold the weight of books on leadership and how to get things done, but still it is energizing to keep the key message flourishing: it is all about how to influence people.

A study on leadership styles in different school settings showed some nice examples of what can happen with certain ways of influencing on actual change in teachers. It turned out that informing the thinking and sharing the practice of others were essential. That is to say: through conversation among members explicate and discuss to convince the ‘other’ of the worth of a proposed change. This led the authors to make a distinction between ‘influencing’ and ‘change’ in which influencing is open and transcending, and precedes change of actions. A stress on change without influencing would be really counterproductive.

But often leaders forget this simple message in a hurry to ‘accomplish things’; alas, a ‘first things first’ mentality will get you nowhere (3). Reinterpreting the outcomes of the study one could point to the real meaning of ‘leading’ which is counter to a rushing towards some end but instead far more a ‘shepherding’ of participants to get somewhere together. Put differently, it not so much ‘messaging’ what makes a good leader but ‘assessing opportunities’ to make headway.


The teacher leadership process: Attempting change within embedded systems Kristy S. Cooper, Randi N. Stanulis, Susan K. Brondyk,  Erica R. Hamilton, Michael Macaluso, Jessica A. Meier Journal of  Educational Change (2016) 17:85–113

DOI 10.1007/s10833-015-9262-4



1 http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7994.Jean_Jacques_Rousseau
2 http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/leviathan/summary.html
3  https://www.google.nl/search?q=first+things+first%E2%80%99+&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab&gfe_rd=cr&ei=DTKYWM7xFKqN8QfLyoOYCg#q=first+things+first+lyrics



Effects Of Time

beeldTime heals, time flies, time will tell (1). School time may not abide to all of these associations that exist with the word ‘Time’ ;  nonetheless it is definitely  a period of time of huge importance and with major impact on our life. So, does it effect last? The school building, the teachers we had, the peers we played with, this all fades away slowly over time. But still we can recall some of them. A recollection of lived through experiences can be confronting sometimes, especially when school time was not a joyful era. Most of us, however, rate their school time as a positive time (2), looking back with satisfaction. School time is both an academic time as well as a social time: you learn together. Later on in life unfortunately “learning together” gets scarcer. For its academic part our recall of what was taught and mastered will decay over time: How to do fractions again? What is exactly a Palindrome? Where on earth lies Armenia? As for its social share a lot depends on time itself. It turns out that with age feelings of identity with school time increase.

At least, that is one of the outcomes of a study linking length of time and school satisfaction. Three groups of alumni could be identified all having different attitudes towards their school time. Those having strong ties remained academically involved (with additional contacts and extended studies); then there were those with weak ties; in time their positive attitude towards the old school increased. And lastly, there were those with no ties disconnecting from the school over time altogether.

Apart from a school’s interest in setting up alumni policies (3) these findings tell us that with the passage of time the influence of identity with a school on students’ loyalty increases (as was the case for university alumni in this study but why not for previous education as well). A lot may be forgotten (academically) but school time is an investment in a long term relationship. It may be realized from time to time by teachers and could be revived in student attitudes that school time engagement ties you up for a long time.


The Effects of Passage of Time on Alumni Recall of ‘Student Experience’ by Nicole Koenig-Lewis, Yousra Asaad, Adrian Palmer, and Elina Petersone, Higher Education Quarterly, Volume 70, No. 1, January 2016, pp 59–80 DOI: 10.1111/hequ.12063



  1. http://hubpages.com/education/phrases-with-the-word-time
  2. http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.nl/
  3. http://idealistcareers.org/college-grads-how-to-connect-with-alumni-and-find-potential-opportunities/

Life Is The House You Live In


Hmm? A visit starts with the front door, of course. It is the face of the house for everyone to see. May be it is polished and well kept, or will it show the wear and tear of all that went through? Then, let’s skip the hallway and go straight to the living room, the ‘parlour’. This is the place of relaxation built up over the year with  stuff you feel comfortable with. Not always does everything in it fit well together but one tries. At least it is filled with mostly good memories. Home interior design does want you to take action and make smaller or bigger plans to refurbish the place but as often it can wait for a while. More and more the kitchen takes over in interest. After all it is the spot were daily activities come together, talks steam up the atmosphere in the house. The kitchen has become truly the central arena of life and living in the house.  From time to time a piece falls to the floor but easily cleaned for those who run a tight organized home. After work has been done the senses move upstairs. Different schedules run against each other on the stairs. Those who can wait will triumph nonetheless. After the stairs separate worlds are deployed. Bedrooms and bathrooms are individual places of rest and restauration, which one needs to be there. Finally getting peace of mind, or alternatively, worrying about coming things ahead.

Since this is supposed to be a blog on teaching and school life let’s redirect the metaphor to teachers. “Teaching, for teachers, is the house they live in”. How would that turn out?