While students of psychology and education have the privilege of hindsight through exposure to all major personality theories propagated by different schools of psychology - and thus the opportunity to take a more eclectic view of human behaviour, emotion and cognition - psychologists themselves use an exclusivist approach to studying the subject. One may get the impression that they do not see eye to eye and that each of them is eager to advocate his or her own narrow view and understanding of personality.
Word of caution
Educators need to be careful how psychology is applied to the teaching and designing of learning content for students. While psychology has been a significant force in the development of the field of education since time immemorial, success has only been possible when the applications were made in the context of an overall understanding of the implications of several theories combined. For example, the critical-period theory (which says that personality is fully shaped in the first six years of human life) makes more sense in the light of the kind of relationship and interpersonal exchanges encountered by parents and the child during those years. Also, the cognitive development of a child could account for significant differences in how life is experienced and viewed.
Teachers play the role of a psychologist (or counsellor) on a daily basis - the only difference is that they play this role every day for all the students (in any given class) at one go. The principles that guide a counsellor in a one-on-one session will not help a teacher whose role is to manage personality patterns, read and decode behavioural nuances and respond positively to every need of children in a way that is mutually beneficial to all parties. Hence, a teacher-counsellor should take into account the following guidelines to execute his/her dual role effectively.
Do not panic when you see differences in behaviour as they may not necessarily spring from problems in personality. Often, differences in behaviour may be due to something as temporary as having a bad day, or being exposed to bad company. Expect things to change with time.
Pause and listen to your students. This allows you to understand what and how students are feeling and thinking. Be psychologically in tune by paying attention to verbal and non-verbal messages (and beyond, i.e., what is not said and shown).
Do not conclude any behavioural condition. The fact remains that psychological findings change over time. A good example of this would be findings about the correlation between self-esteem and academic achievement. After many years of research and advocating for the relationship, educators realised that the link between the two variables was not as straightforward. Human behaviour is dynamic, and it has to be treated as such.
Try to understand why a child does something (instead of spending time naming and describing the behaviour). For example, Roy drew a nasty, violent picture and volunteered to show it to the homeroom teacher. Being an effective teacher-counsellor, he/she should ask himself/herself, "Is this a sign of emotional disturbance, or is Roy simply asking for extra attention?"
Recognise and accept that explanation to most psychological mysteries lies in the child himself/herself. Your task is to draw the answers out and allow the child to heal himself/herself. Children can, and do, help themselves.
Constantly remind children that changing external factors is difficult, but that changing how we view and respond to external factors is possible and more important (cognitive restructuring).
In the face of challenges, guide the child to refocus and look for alternatives. Simultaneously, guide the child to contemplate and act on what's here and now and things that the he/she is in control of.
Dr Edward Roy Krishnan is the director of studies, Kent Institute of Business & Technology (Thailand), and director of strategic planning & development, Wells International School. He also lectures in the Graduate School of Psychology, Assumption University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To access additional articles by him, visit http://www.affectiveteaching.com.