The word “ego” often comes up in conversations about teachers, and not in a positive sense.
We hear teachers being described as having a “big ego”. However, this is usually in reference to teachers who are confident. This confidence comes through by:
- consistently putting ideas on the table
- coming up with an approach and going for it
- refusing to allow oneself to be bullied
- projecting an image of confidence to students
- looking confident
- taking on the challenge of leading people
- stepping up to deal with situations
- consistently contributing to discussions in large groups
Sure, these can sometimes spill over into arrogance or an inflated ego, but usually only when people feel cornered, subject to critical scrutiny by colleagues or – inevitably – malicious gossip.
I think a teacher ego – in it’s negative sense – is much less visible than the things in the list above. I think a negative teacher ego manifests itself as:
- believing one is much better at one’s job than one is
- claiming good practice is obvious, yet not actually doing it
- being a know-it-all
- always referring to one’s own ideas, thoughts and practices and not those of other people
- making it clear that other people’s perspectives matter less than one’s own, either consciously or subconsciously
- consistently talking while other people are talking
- finishing other people’s sentences
- shutting people down
- consistently judging other people’s practice and behaviour
- believing other people are interested in one’s negative or critical thoughts
- struggling to see anything from other people’s perspectives
- consistently making everything about oneself
- making one’s problems someone else’s problems
These behaviours are subtle, divisive and destructive… and particularly so because they are not usually the behaviours of people who are often described as “having a big ego”. Instead, they are often the behaviours of people who come across as insecure and, as a result, are quite hidden.
I should clarify that I’m not writing this posting because of anything that has happened to me recently… some, but not all, of my postings are autobiographical! I guess I’m writing this posting because I would like to see an increasingly sophisticated understanding of:
- what confidence is and why it is important for young people to be taught by confident adults
- how to avoid writing off confident people as having a “big ego” and preventing that initial observation from manifesting itself as malicious gossip
- how to deal with the more subtle, egotistical behaviours that do more harm in our schools than any confident, or even over-confident, behaviours could ever do
image from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/positive-ego-nancy-steidl-1
This year we have introduced something called a round table discussion. The students sit together and face one another. We then have them read an article or will tell them something to spark a conversation. It may be something controversial which will invite a debate or be something to simply share their personal view on the subject.
To begin with the teacher will need to guide and manage the flow of the conversation. Once the students have had enough experience it can be handed over to them. A lead student (tracker) can then record who speaks and contributes to the conversation by mapping it on a piece of paper.
We have found that it is best to start with the whole class. This will model how to conduct the discussions. Once they get the hang of it, then reduce the number of students. The dynamics will shift immediately and the quieter students will feel more comfortable to express and engage with the conversation.
This is such a powerful way to promote speaking and listening skills. The students then summarize the conversation and gain a deeper insight to different perspectives. From here they may either shift their original thinking because of someone else in the group or just strengthen their own conclusion.
Experiment doing this in your class to suit the students you teach. We will be doing this a lot more and will share these films with you in the near future. If you do try it please show us how you approached it with your students.