(Behaviourist vs Humanist: Where do I stand as a trainee teacher?) PS 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12

During one of my PGCE PCET sessions, our class tutor asked students to consider their teaching style. We were asked to align ourselves in a specific fashion to either behaviourism or humanism. The activity involved physically positioning oneself along a continuum in the room (one side labelled behaviourist, the other humanist). Our position on the continuum was to reflect our perception of our teaching style. Towards the end of the session we were asked to reconsider our position on this behaviourist-humanist line, and whether our position had changed and if so why this was.

As Cowley states (2014:67) ‘lots of facets go together to make up a teaching style: your personality, the way you look, the way you speak, the way you use movement and space, the levels of control you use’ there is a great deal to consider. This activity was useful in helping me to reflect on my practice, as well as my belief system as a trainee teacher. I positioned myself close to the middle of the two approaches, leaning a fraction towards the humanist side. I know that my ideals lean towards a humanistic approach, it is in my nature to want to nurture people, actively listen to them. I view my learners as unique individuals who benefit from following their own path in learning.

It is important to view learners as capable from the beginning, recognising that individuals do have ‘the capacity to guide, regulate, and control himself, providing only that certain definable conditions exist. Only in the absence of these conditions, and not in any basic sense, is it necessary to provide external control and regulation of the individual’ (Rogers 1959:221); if learners are not valued and respected in the learning environment, it is possible that poor behaviour will emerge consequently, behaviourist style teaching strategies maybe employed which seek to control group behaviour and do not consider the individual learners. Rogers (1994:106) emphasises that the effectiveness of learning ‘rests upon certain attitudinal qualities which exist in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learners’; a personal relationship creates a meaningful context for learning. Teaching in this guise is essentially a holistic nature; learning goes beyond intellectual education and encourages the development of the whole individual.

When I reflect on the variety of students I teach, their needs, behaviours and backgrounds are diverse; from individuals whom actively seek social acceptance and have lack of stability in their home environment, to individuals who ooze confidence and have secure relationships with others.  My body language, tone of voice and disposition towards my students adapts with to the dynamics of the group; when moods are low my empathetic nature becomes evident, and there are high levels of positive energy, I become energetic and enthusiastic with them. I feel it is important to recognise and acknowledge the disposition of my learners from the start of the session, Rogers (2004) considers that for learning to take place, any emotional threat to an individual’s self-concept needs to be assisted, as learners need to reach a state of congruence. I have noticed that by actively listening to learners and enabling individuals to seek their own answers, helped foster positive relationships, which in turn has created a positive environment for learning. For example, when a student confides in me that they feel low today, because they have had a distressing weekend, it is by actively listening, acknowledging their feelings and encouraging them to address possible problems, that their mood and approach to learning improves significantly. I appreciate that such an approach does not work in all cases, learner’s are all different and if their self-concept is under threat, not all individuals can free themselves to be motivated to learn (Rogers 1994). As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (McLeod 2016) theorises, some needs take precedence over others; if a person’s physiological needs, feelings of security and sense of belonging are not met, then motivation and behaviour will be affected. I can relate to this concept from my own personal experience in life and from my experience as an Early Years Professional; to be without key basic needs causes much distress, affecting rational thought and higher level thinking.

Assuming a facilitating role, enables the teacher to truly understand their learners, and in turn enable them to become effective learners. However, whilst I embrace these principles, I do not believe that it would be useful to follow in a pure form as Roger’s would propose. To have ‘unconditional positive regard’ for all learners at all times (Roger 2004), would be challenging; it proposes that the learner will want to share their thoughts and feelings with you; which is very idealistic and may suit only a number of personalities in the class. Furthermore, the teacher would be at risk of taking on too much of an emotional burden, which may negatively impact on the teacher’s motivation and well-being. A teacher would need specialised training to enter the realms of supporting learners in a psychological and emotionally intense mode. A thorough understanding of the rules and boundaries a teacher must navigate would be essential to ensure that professional standards are maintained. It is possible that some ethical issues could arise due to the high level of familiarity. Furthermore, it would be advisable for each teacher to receive structured support from their own assigned facilitator, to enable them to balance their emotional welfare.

The behaviourist element to my thinking emanates from one of my main criticisms of Roger’s (1994) ‘facilitation theory’. The criticism is that the time devoted by a teacher on understanding each individual learner detracts from the process of acquiring new knowledge. Of course, it is essential to have a thorough knowledge of each of your learners, to ensure that your teaching style can adapt to the needs of the individual, as well as collective group (Cowley 2014). The humanist in me wants to develop the individual, but I am aware that in reality, time is seldom available to enable all of my learners’ to reach a level of self-actualisation, state of congruence and achieve excellent results in assessments. As a teacher it is not within remit to try and change the background of learners’ you work with, or try and remove any emotional burdens they may have, but you can influence how they are welcomed into your classroom, how they are taught and motivated to learn (Cowley 2014). Part of a teacher’s role, is to manage behaviour in the classroom to facilitate effective learning (DfE 2014). It is the teacher’s responsibility to plan lessons appropriately and prepare learning activities which captivate a learner’s attention, hence creating ‘behaviour for learning’ (Kyriacou 2014:128).

‘Behaviour for learning’ in this context, suggests that the teacher is the authority, and essentially the controller of behavioural change in students; success is viewed only by learners engaging in set activities that meets the planned aims. It is useful to consider Watson’s (1928) stimulus-response theory at its application in the classroom. To achieve ‘behaviour for learning’ the teacher needs to set expectations and explain the outcomes of the session with particular emphasis on the possible rewards when success is achieved. The effectiveness of this technique will be reliant on the teacher’s personal expectations of each individual learner, as Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) found teacher expectations affect the performance of learner achievement; high expectations equals high achievement. This demonstrates just how important the teachers role is, learners are sensitive to your perception of them. Rogers (1994) would criticise this top-down approach to learning, believing that it should be for the learner to recognise their own learning goals and expectations, as the teacher runs the risk of limiting the learner expectations.

As Gerrard and Farrell (2014) suggest teaching is a ‘profession’, and ‘professionals’ have always been considered as having ownership of their expertise and knowledge, therefore it is natural for teachers to take control. Society demands that teacher’s practice feeds into the realities of the bigger framework of assessment, and into the power of the institution and the given government expectations and standards (Dean 1999, Elliott 2009); there are many pressures on teachers to perform and to produce a high standard of results from students. To successfully enable a teacher’s authority, it is imperative to deploy interpersonal skills of ‘withitness’ and ‘overlapping’; demonstrating a constant awareness and an ability to manage multiple events in the classroom (Elliott 2009:6). To be an effective teacher I consider it is important to be realistic, to engage in the role and responsibilities of a teaching role and to work within the curriculum framework. It is also crucial to have respect for learners and to show that respect by ensuring they are listened to. It is vitally important to establish positive relations, in a bid to aid the facilitation of lessons to benefit the learners’, this process benefits the teacher as well. Essentially, the teaching style that an individual might adopt is subject to change, as it needs to adapt in accordance with the dynamics of the group they are teaching, for example, I consider my teaching approach to lean toward the Behaviourist style when working with Level 1 students. However, my nature becomes more humanistic when I teach my Level 3 students (I will explore this in another blog).

I adore my subject specialism ‘Early Years’, it has great importance to me; my motivation to teach my specialism is centred upon my desire contribute towards achieving a highly skilled Early Years Workforce. In my role as a trainee teacher, I can help to create employable and highly responsive Early Years Practitioners whom are fully fit to enter the work place, coupled with an ambition to meet children’s needs and interests effectively. There is much evidence available to support the fact that a highly skilled Early Years workforce is of paramount importance to ensure quality practice is delivered, to enable all young children to have the best start to life (Sylva et al 2004, DfE 2012).

As Mathers and Smees (2014:3) study exemplifies, quality early year’s provision can help narrow the ‘attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers’ and at present, Ofsted (2014) findings have highlighted that there is a lower quality early years’ practice in deprived areas of the United Kingdom. Gaunt (2017) found parents reported ‘childcare quality as falling’ in the Good Care Guide, aspects such a poor hygiene, lack of stimulation and inadequate child learning were sited. To foster a solely humanist approach would demand that lessons should take on a more lucid nature, which would detract from the importance of the Early Years Practitioner central role, that of ensuring effective high quality care.

There needs to be a balance between a humanist and behaviourist approach to teaching. Teaching should not be a passive process that is rigidly planned; neither should learning be solely at the discretion of the students who have chosen their subject for a specific purpose. The humanistic approach may help motivate learners; it is a more personalised form of learning, creating a meaningful context, potentially allowing for new information or ideas to be accommodated more effectively. The behaviourist approach sets clear rules and boundaries for learners, carefully planned activities ensures that learners the opportunity to gain the skills they need to be successful in achieving a qualification in Early Years. Both approaches are desirable to fully engage learners and ensure the given curriculum is delivered effectively to satisfy the assessment criteria. The utilisation of an effective teaching approach is reliant on high quality teacher’s training, experience and reflective practice.

Cowley, S. (2014) Getting the Buggers to Behave. 5th edition. London: Bloomsbury Education

Dean, M. (1999) Governmentality. London: Sage

Department for Education (DfE)(2012) Nutbrown Review [Online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175463/Nutbrown-Review.pdf [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Department for Education (DfE) (2014) Behaviour and discipline in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff. London: DfE

Elliott, J.G. (2009) Teacher Expertise: The nature of teacher authority and teacher expertise. Support for Learning. 24 (4). Pp. 197-203

Gaunt, C. (2017) Parents say childcare quality is falling [Online] Available from:  http://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/news/1160305/parents-say-childcare-quality-is-falling?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Gerrard, J. and Farrell,L. (2014) Remaking the professional teacher: authority and curriculum reform, Journal of Curriculum Studies. 46 (5). Pp 634-655[Accessed 14th February 2017]

Kyriacou, C. (2014) Essential Teaching Skills. 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Mathers, S. and Smees, R. (2014) Quality and Inequality: Do three and four year olds in deprived areas experience lower quality early years provision? For Nuffield Foundation. [Online] Available from: http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/Quality_inequality_childcare_mathers_29_05_14.pdf [Accessed 14th February 2017]

McLeod, S. A. (2016). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [Online] Available from:  http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 16th February 2017]

Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2014).The Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills: Early Years 2012/13. Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. [Online] Available from: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/earlyyearsannualreport1213 [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Rogers, C. (1959) A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A Study of a Science: Vol. 3 (pp. 184-256). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Rogers, C. (1994) Freedom to Learn. New York: Prentice Hall.

Rogers, C. (2004) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable.

Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom. The Urban Review. [Online] Available from: https://www.uni-muenster.de/imperia/md/content/psyifp/aeechterhoff/sommersemester2012/schluesselstudiendersozialpsychologiea/rosenthal_jacobson_pygmalionclassroom_urbrev1968.pdf [Accessed 16th February 2017]

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004) The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE): Findings from the Early Primary Years [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14th February 2017]

Watson, J.B. (1928) The Ways of Behaviourism. New York: Harper and Brothers

One thought on “(Behaviourist vs Humanist: Where do I stand as a trainee teacher?) PS 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12

  1. This post shows great engagement with how theory impacts on and informs your practice. This degree of reflection will give you a strong basis for developing as a teacher.
    Thank you.

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