Being a Human Givens practitioner means accepting the premise of the approach: we all have emotional needs and there are potential barriers to getting these needs met. I apply my work as a Human Givens practitioner to my work as a teacher in the following ways.
- Security: Each pupil needs to feel safe in the classroom. As a teacher, I need to create a trusting 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?
- Giving and receiving attention: I am lucky in that most of my classes are small. 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. Respectful listening also means giving attention to someone else.
- 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 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. Autonomy is not about doing what you feel like doing – it about realising when you can behave autonomously. No matter where we end up, we are always bound by rules or conventions of some sort. But we need to learn how to recognise these and how to behave within them.
- Being part of a community: The pupils find it much easier when they realise they are all in it together and that they are not facing the prospect of exams and growing up 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. Schools are communities and I like to encourage the pupils to take advantage of their community and to contribute to it in some way.
- Status within a group: There are times when a pupil might be given a specific task that has relevance to 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 teach the class. It can be very empowering for them to realise that they are trusted.
- Self-esteem and competency: This is what I am aiming for. By the end of his time with me, I want the pupil to feel that he has achieved something and that he has mastered a skill that can be used again and again and not only in my subject.
- Meaning: 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 simply 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).
The Human Givens philosophy then identifies three barriers to these needs not being met. These are equally applicable in a classroom.
- A toxic environment: We are not always fully aware of the pupil’s home life. There are times when the home is not conducive to a healthy mind. Sometimes we are aware of it but there is very little that we can do. All the school can do then is to make the classroom as safe and supportive as it can be. School can become a haven for the child whose home is dysfunctional.
- Our innate guidance system has been damaged: As a teacher, we can guide and counsel. We can help retrain the guidance system. But this takes time and patience and a vast amount of trust. Simply teaching how to master a particular subject can be the route into broaching more difficult emotional difficulties. But we all have our limits and difficulties like a trauma needs to be handled by professionals.
- Missing particular coping skills: Again, a teacher can be the person the pupil trusts the most. It is a very powerful and privileged position and, when used appropriately, the relationship can be highly beneficial to the troubled teenager.