Taking a Step Back
Handling situations that feel challenging or provocative.
It can be challenging to take a step back in situations that feel difficult or provocative. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to adopt a perspective of distance to be able to see the situation from different angles and empathize with the concerns and needs of individuals. By doing so, one might discover aspects that were not apparent in the immediate situation, opening up a space for action in future situations.
The core curriculum (1.3) describes critical thinking as, among other things, "being able to understand that [...] one's own experiences, viewpoints, and convictions may be incomplete or erroneous."
To effectively convey this important, self-reflective aspect of critical thinking to students, teachers should also be able to model such an attitude. They must be willing to set aside their preconceptions and interpretations.
Here's a specific tip on how teachers, individually and collaboratively, can use the core curriculum to gain perspective on their own practices. This can help reflect on their position and involvement in challenges related to prejudices, exclusion, and alienation:
Take a step back – panic moments as pedagogical opportunities
Panic moments are situations where the teacher experiences a norm violation that leaves them at a loss. That is, the teacher does not have an immediate strategy to handle the situation professionally. In a panic moment, the teacher also becomes emotionally involved: either provoked, angry, or hurt.
Such situations often trigger two types of reactions:
- Sweeping something under the rug because it feels challenging to handle.
- "Cracking down" or sanctioning to put an end to the provocative behavior.
Both types of reactions diminish the pedagogical space for reflection, dialogue, and development.
“In such situations, it may be crucial not to act immediately but to take some time for self-reflection.
The following questions open up important perspectives:
- What do I perceive as provocative/norm violation here?
- Why am I so emotionally affected?
- Are there alternative ways for me to interpret the situation?
Reflecting on one's thoughts and feelings gives the teacher an opportunity to clear away obstacles that hinder them from engaging with those involved in the incident in a constructive manner.
An essential element in this self-reflection is uncovering notions about the students involved linked to previous experiences with the students or assumptions about the students' background ("typical..."). Such preconceptions narrow down the interpretation space to a confirmation of existing patterns. Instead of triggering empathetic curiosity ("What did you really mean by this? What did you hope to achieve?), it closes the door to the questioning and dialogical space.
This kind of self-reflection can contribute to a reassessment of pedagogically challenging situations, which, in turn, can turn the panic moment into a pedagogical opportunity.
This can be practiced individually or in a collegial community. Collegial guidance related to situations one experiences is useful for de-individualizing challenging pedagogical questions and building an ethical school culture. At the same time, sharing situations where, as a teacher, one feels they were not at their best as an educator can be vulnerable. Constructed cases can, therefore, be helpful to get started before taking on cases based on real challenges.