There's something more to teaching than theory, and planning, and pedagogy, and assessment. And that something is hidden in the relationship between the learner and their teacher (Bahr, 2016; Bahr and Mellor, 2016).
It is something that is crafted, and sensible, and real, and it has everything to do with the development of self-respect in learners.
I actually think that we can learn a lot from Winnie the Pooh and his mates. In this article I reflect on the journey of Piglet to illustrate why we need to turn our considerations for teaching upside down to enable us to better address the needs of our learners for lifelong resilience and success.
The case for self-respect
Self-respect is fundamental for resilience, for establishing positive interpersonal relationships and partnerships, and it is the first necessary element for the risk-taking that frames every step of our adult lives.
Self-respect is more than self-concept. However, often the terms self-respect and self-concept are mistakenly used inexpertly and interchangeably. As identified in the classic work by David Sachs (1981), they are not the same thing.
Self-respect is the sense that you are worthy and valuable. It emerges from being the recipient of unconditional positive regard and support. It differs from self-concept, which is about a person's view of their capability in identified fields, and if differs from self-esteem, which is about our sense of success in a venture.
Sachs explains this using the way we talk about others as a way to clarify the differences. If we say we respect someone, we know that's not the same as saying we hold them in high esteem. Esteem is a measure of the regard you hold for someone due to some measure of their status with respect to you. If you respect them, then you are considering their worth as a person and status is not directly relevant. And so it is for self-respect and self-esteem.
To illustrate …
- Fred is really happy with how his efforts in maths have been rewarded with high grades. He really likes maths, it makes him feel very capable generally and he has high regard for himself as a learner as a result: this is self-esteem.
- Fred feels awkward when he tries to dance, as a result he doesn't really consider himself as a dancer and he's okay with that: this is his self-concept for dance.
- Fred quite likes himself, he's happy with who he is and his general worthiness and value as a person: this is self-respect and it is a deep and all-encompassing sense of positivity. (Langer, 1999)
Self-respect is the more complex attribute to develop as it is not tied directly to achievements or capabilities and is much more reliant on the quality of interpersonal relationships. Self-respect is somewhat of a forgotten goal in the education enterprise.
I suggest that we can see in the classic writings of A. A. Milne (1994), how Winnie the Pooh's friend Piglet – a small and uncertain, frightened little pig – develops his self-respect through his engagement with the toy family of Christopher Robin. I'd like to consider the experience of Piglet as a metaphoric framework for depicting the stages of the relationship journey for teachers and learners and how this influences student self-respect.
The steps and stages of self-respect according to Piglet
Fearful … Stage one: ‘Piglet wasn't afraid if he had Christopher with him, so off they went.'
Here the learner, Piglet, is reliant on his teacher, in this case Christopher, to support him in the scary and new learning venture. The teacher needs to act in a supportive almost parental way, accepting the poverty of knowledge and capability (note not capacity) and providing the encouragement and partnership to enable the first tentative engagements with the learning.
Safety and unconditional acceptance while providing the ‘hand at the elbow' close guidance are features at this stage. The learner does not yet have a sense of self-respect as a learner. They may feel ill-equipped, confused by seeming complexities, and fragile.
Pretence … Stage two: … ‘And Piglet said nothing. He had tried to think of something to say, but the only thing he could think of was, “Help, help!” and it seemed silly to say that, when he had Pooh and Rabbit with him.' … ‘What? Said Piglet with a jump. And then, to show that he hadn't been frightened, he jumped up and down once or twice more in an exercising sort of way.'
Here it has begun to matter to the learner that they are sending signals to their teacher that they are managing and that they understand important elements of their learning. They rely on the appreciation and noticing of their new capabilities by their teacher to feel growth in their self-respect. So they are independent, but in a dependent sort of way.
The teacher here has a role to be supportive and nearby. The relationship is no longer as intensive. The ‘hand at the elbow' described in stage one has morphed into more of a ‘hovering attendant' always present, but not crushingly so.
Self-satisfaction … Stage three: ‘And I know it seems easy', said Piglet to himself, ‘but it isn't everyone who could do it.'
At this stage the learner, Piglet, is starting to take pride in achievement. They have noticed that they have developed capability and they are feeling confident in themselves. Their teacher has successfully guided them such that the learner feels that they have mastered something of value. The excellent teacher will have done so like a ninja.
The learner may not realise the depth of the cunning plays the teacher has made to bring the student to this level of self-satisfaction. Note, self-satisfaction is not quite the same as self-respect. Self-satisfaction is just the warm glow a person feels when they notice that they've achieved something.
Self-respect … Stage four: ‘And the Piglet did a Noble thing, and he did it in a sort of dream, while he was thinking of all the wonderful words Pooh had hummed about him.'
Here the learner is feeling a deep sense of worth. The part the teacher has played in the journey to capability is recognised by the learner and the working relationship assumes the maturity of mutual appreciation. The teacher respects the achievements of the student, and the learner respects their own achievements borne of the support and unconditional belief of their teacher.
At this stage the learner feels a sense of nobility. Their sense of worth is embedded in a deep respect for the partnership that has been enabling. The sense of self-respect that has emerged sets the learner for the next learning journey. And so, self-respect spirals upwards for each learner.
The Noble Piglet effect and high impact teaching
So, teachers have an important role in the development of self-respect. I go further to insist that working professionally with an expressed purpose to develop a kind of Noble Piglet-type self-respect is essential in high impact teaching.
I propose that the learner experiences their growth in overall self-respect as spirals within spirals. Each spiral comprises the four stages of the Noble Piglet effect. The journey from early childhood through to senior schooling is an outer spiral. Then there is an inner set of spirals for junior school versus other schooling stages. Within these are the academic terms. And then even further internal to these are the concepts and capabilities that are learned. The teacher must be a master in juggling and crafting these relationships, and for many different learners at the same time as they negotiate their learning within several concentric and contiguous circular stages. Each of these adds depth to the complete picture an individual has to work with for their self-respect.
In this way, the relationships between student and teacher are fundamental to the learning, and they are intentional, and rely on the teacher's wily cunning. Self-respect, the forgotten learner outcome, is entirely dependent upon this. As a learner, you never forget the way it felt when there has been a potent working learner-teacher relationship.
Of course, as teachers, we all truly wish our students will feel like they can take on and lead the world. It's nice to know that we can build the necessary student self-respect by carefully managing our relationships with them.
So, what does this mean to us as teachers? I propose that there is a kind of hierarchy that needs to be applied when identifying considerations in a learning context, and it goes like this.
- First: The relationship
- Next: The learner
- Last: the learning
We need to start by understanding and crafting a productive relationship between the teacher and the learner, appropriate to their age and stage of development, social needs, and personal identity needs for both parties.
Then we need to understand and respond to the way the learner engages with their learning, motivations, prior knowledge, goals for learning. And then, with these first two still in mind, we need to design the approach to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
In our teacher education and in the practice and profession of teaching we have this hierarchy completely upside down. We start typically with the learning, extend this into considering the learner, but often only as this can be managed by batch. The relationship is left to chance.
The result is the deeply personal construction of a learner's self-respect is also left to chance. We can do better. This is where the Noble Piglet effect contributes and is connected to high impact teaching. By mindfully leading our students from fear to pretence, self-satisfaction and through to self-respect we are creating the personal conditions for lifelong learning and lifelong resilience and for a successful life.
We must turn our approach on its head, to lead our teaching with considerations and crafting of the personal dynamics in play. The careful management of these interpersonal dynamics are first amongst many elements for high impact teaching.
Bahr, N. (2016, September 7). Dr Seuss and quality teaching Part 1: ‘Today you are you'. Teacher. Retrieved from www.teachermagazine.com.au
Bahr, N., & Mellor, S. (2016). Building quality in teaching and teacher education. Australian Education Review No. 61. Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne, Vic.
Langer, E.J. (1999). Self-esteem vs. self-respect. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: www.psychologytoday.com/au/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect
Milne, A.A. (1994). Winnie the Pooh: The complete collection of stories and poems. Methuen Children's Books: London.
Sachs, D. (1981). How to distinguish self-respect from self-esteem. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 346-360.