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Self Awareness - The key to success in the classroom AND as a school leader

Posted on 8 November 2017
Self Awareness - The key to success in the classroom AND as a school leader

Those who have worked in the field of Professional Mentoring and Appraisal would be aware of the importance of a leader who has an accurate sense of themselves.  This does not mean one has to excel in all areas of leadership - rather that one is aware of your strengths and failings, and what you do that can lead to "high yield" outcomes and what actions of yours that can have the reverse impact.

Some would say that the capacity to "see yourself as others see you" is one of the most significant markers of a successful leader's DNA...

In the light of this, the following article by Nikki Davies in Education HQ Nov 3, 2017 certainly adds weight to this principle:

It's a theory that has been supported by a number of studies including recent research by Nicholas Papageorge and Seth Gershenson (2016) that suggests teacher expectations have a causal impact on student academic attainment.

Yet teacher expectations are broader than this and not only revolve around our expectations of our student's academic prospects and classroom behaviour, but around our school community, our colleagues, executive, our students' parents and carers, our own performance and the teaching experience itself.

While expectations are important markers for knowing when we are successfully moving toward our goals and when we are not, and for creating boundaries that protect our sense of self and what is and isn't appropriate from ourselves and others, they can also be problematic.

Problematic expectations include those that are too high or unrealistic for us, or others to meet, and those that are unfair because they are based on biases and judgements.

Each can have significant consequences for our professional practice and for others in the school community.

Expectations are informed by our beliefs, attitudes, biases and experiences and are about what we anticipate will or should happen in our classrooms and in our schools.

We have expectations about what our role as a teacher is, what we expect from others in terms of their behaviour or work ethic, and what we expect each lesson should look like, sound like and achieve.

When these expectations aren't met, we can become anxious, frustrated, angry, defeated and stressed, all of which impact our ability to teach, and our student's ability to learn.

Developing our self-awareness though, can help us to avoid the personal and professional consequences of unhelpful and even harmful expectations.

Self-awareness is generally seen as the keystone of Emotional Intelligence (EI) because without it we are less able to demonstrate empathy with others.

Self-awareness is understood to require a profound understanding of our emotions, strengths and limitations, values and motives.

Combined with other elements of EI self-awareness allows us to construct a specific response to situations and people that demonstrates our ability to understand others, their needs, and the contextual elements of the moment.

While there is still debate around the conceptualisation and operationalisation of EI, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman identified four major dimensions that describe the foundations of it including self-awareness, social awareness, self-management or self-regulation, and relationship management.

In terms of the skills associated with EI, self-awareness is described as the perception of emotions in ourselves and others, social awareness as the ability to analyse emotional information and understand emotional changes, blends and transitions, self-management as the ability to generate and use emotions to facilitate different types of thinking, and relationship management as the ability to regulate our emotions and the emotions of others.

In the classroom, these explanations are particularly useful for teachers in helping us to recognise any unhelpful expectations and responses we might have to students, and where they might be coming from.

However, there is a significant difference between having these skills and applying them in appropriate contexts and this is where self-awareness is so important to teacher expectations around themselves and others.

In the workplace, self-awareness is associated with outcomes including higher levels of job satisfaction, more effective decision making, improved morale, increased productivity and higher employee retention levels.

When applied to the issue of teacher expectations, self-awareness can help to moderate the impacts of teacher stress and reduce levels of teacher burnout by not only providing a platform for us to identify those expectations that aren't useful, but by helping us to be more realistic about them and about others.

The process of self-awareness requires us to turn our attention inward rather than outward, analysing and assessing the sources of our expectations and the emotions and behaviours they trigger.

Once we have identified these we can then move on to reflecting on if, and how, these expectations can or should be moderated.

But how do we develop our self-awareness in a way that is less about the self-recrimination, negative self-perceptions and emotions which are associated with depression and anxiety, and more about the proactive and productive analysis that is linked to increased wellbeing, reduced stress and greater resilience?

The practice of heightening self-awareness has two essential stages with an integral element of the first stage of self-awareness being self-reflection.

Self-reflection allows us to examine the underlying motives and values that drive our expectations and our actions.

In terms of our expectations of others, this might require us to look at whether our expectations of others are fair or based on generalised judgements rather than an understanding of the individual influences that form each of us.

In terms of ourselves in might mean analysing whether our expectations are ours alone or have been informed by what we think others require of us.

The second stage of self-awareness, after acknowledgement of our expectations and whether they are useful or harmful to ourselves or others, is self-acceptance - which isn't about simply going on as before.

Instead self-acceptance, which has origins in the humanist tradition of psychology that links self-acceptance with lower psychopathology, higher self-esteem and increased acceptance of others, is about change.

While the two might seem dichotomous, self-acceptance is less about accepting the status-quo and more about accepting what was, with the view to moving toward what could be - in this case, altering our expectations or at least our responses to expectations not met.

When practiced properly, self-awareness should enable us to more fully understand our values and experiences and the way they form and inform, our expectations of ourselves and others, as well as how they influence our emotions and behaviour.

Self-awareness then is about providing a path forward to a less stressful and more genuine professional practice.

Tags: Leadership

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