Therapy in the classroom
Being a Human Givens practitioner means accepting the premise of the approach: we all have emotional needs. Here is my take on applying the relevant ones to the classroom.
Each pupil needs to feel safe in the classroom. As a teacher, I need to create an environment where it is safe to ask and answer a question. Too often pupils are scared to speak up out of the fear of being wrong. It is my responsibility to make it clear that it is safe to make mistakes. Getting things wrong is part of learning. Why is it wrong? How do I get to a more correct answer? Is there even a correct answer? Sometimes this might mean having to explore more of a Growth Mindset by reframing in the following way: You might not know the answer YET.
- Giving and receiving Attention
I am lucky in that most of my classes are small. Either because they are A level groups or because they are smaller groups lower down the school where my subject is challenging for the pupils. Smaller groups make it easier for me to give each pupil the attention they need but it also means that each one of them gets regular opportunities to be the centre of attention for the rest of us.
- Autonomy and control
Admittedly, this one can be tricky as we are so often bound by a syllabus or exam requirement. However, I spend most of my time lower down the school teaching skills. Once the pupil has mastered the skill, they do feel that they have some control in the exam. They have a series of formula which can then be applied depending on the task at hand. I also spend time in the build-up to the external exam period working on how to prepare emotionally for the exam. I have used group Guided Imagery very effectively as a way to rehearse the day of the exam. Again, feeling that they have their nerves under control makes them much more confident. But it is also about acknowledging those things that are out of our control (such as a timetable or the uniform rules)and accepting these as a part of life.
- Being part of a community
The pupils find it much easier when they realise they are all in this together and that they are not facing the prospect of exams alone. My classes have often set up WhatsApp groups or Facebook pages where they share ideas or ask questions to the group when they get stuck. But working as a team in the classroom is equally important. Encouraging lots of chatter and good-natured banter makes them feel much more comfortable with me and with each other. Having a sense of humour is essential. More and more schools are now using Intranets or Apps that allow everyone to be part of a community that exists outside of the classroom.
- Status within a group
There are times when a pupil might be given a specific task that has a bearing on the rest of the class. If a pupil has produced a piece of work that is particularly pleasing, it can become a model for the rest of them. Or occasionally I will hand over the reins to a pupil and let him or her teach the class. It can be very empowering for them to realise that they are trusted.
- Self-esteem and competency
But this is what I am aiming for. By the end of his or her time with me, I want the pupil to feel that he or she has achieved something and has mastered a skill that can be used again and again in time to come and not only in my subject.
So often a pupil cannot see the point of what they are doing. I only issue homework when I can see a purpose to it and then I explain that purpose to the pupils. The challenge is to take the rather odd, artificial subject and show them how it can have meaning. If we are only learning the facts of our subject, it is meaningless. But exploring how we go about learning those facts, could create meaning outside of that classroom. Giving the exam meaning by showing how it is a route to the next stage of their lives gives the exam a purpose beyond simple factual regurgitation. Learning how to accept a challenge and devise a strategy to master that challenge can be far more rewarding than the answer. It is about shifting the focus from external motivational factors (such as a grade) to internal motivational factors (such as the joy of mastering a skill).
There are other key Human Givens principles that I drip feed constantly into my lessons:
- The importance of sleep
- The importance in learning to listen to each other
- The importance of developing a good imagination but at the same time learning that our imagination does need to be brought under control at times
- The importance of a good diet
- Coping skills
- Resilience and being able to bounce back from the setbacks
There are times when we as teachers are aware that the pupil in front of us could have a very disruptive or even traumatic home life. Sometimes our hands are tied and there is not much we can really do about it. And that is when the classroom needs to be a place of safety and security so that their emotional needs can be met. As a teacher, I need to make my classroom as supportive as possible without being condescending and allowing the pupils space to grow and stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones.
In my private counselling or psychotherapy with school children, all of the above become my focus. So often pupils come to me suffering from anxiety and stress. And, inevitably, it is because they feel they have no power or control or they feel totally alone and isolated. By focusing on the basic principles of the Human Givens philosophy, we usually find a marked improvement after the first session.
A version of this article first appeared on Welldoing.org.