Lesson from a cosmetologist

Techniques to improve teaching can be learned from a myriad of simple life experiences gained through interactions with people in non-teaching professions.

This is possible if teachers keep their eyes open and connect real-life phenomena to their own teaching experiences in the classroom.

Such was my own experience during a recent visit to a hair salon. Until that day, I had held the opinion that I could not learn anything significant about teaching from workers in the personal-service industries.

On the contrary, and to my pleasant surprise, I found that even hairdressers can teach multi-degreed educators like myself a thing or two about being an affective teacher.

A closer look

A typical hairdresser is responsible for attending to his/her customer's request regarding the cut, colour and/or style of the customer's hair.

However, customers rarely notice the detailed procedures and multiple tools used by a hairdresser to achieve the final results.

For example, there are many different types of scissors available for even a simple haircut, and each pair of scissors plays a distinct role and fulfills a specific purpose in the aggregate process.

As such, each individual customer is treated differently, and carrying out the same task for another customer may require the cosmetologist to adopt a totally different strategy and plan.

Voila!

This observation led me to thinking about the seriousness and importance of treating every child as a unique individual who constantly requires personalised attention from teachers to fulfil his/her learning needs.

If hairdressers typically differentiate the act of cutting hair according to the characteristics of their customers, how much more should teachers consider differentiating their instruction according to the characteristics of their students?

Prerequisite

Before teachers start believing in the need for differentiation and then act on that belief accordingly, they need to accept the fact that every child is different and requires different types of stimulation to learn. Psychology teaches us that children differ with regards to their general background knowledge, sociocultural and linguistic experiences, subject-specific knowledge, language proficiency and academic skills, interests and motivation to learn.

By accepting and acknowledging the fact that children are different, teachers would be able to deal with the challenges that are inherent in the profession. Often, teachers enter the profession thinking that a uniform treatment, approach and coping skill would suffice to succeed in the classroom. However, upon entering the field and encountering children's individual differences, they experience burnout.

In most cases, a teacher's burnout is not caused by lack of competency. Rather, it is due to unwillingness to accept that children are different and actively work towards meeting them at their own level of academic responsiveness.

Benefits and techniques

Having said that, it must be borne in mind that differentiated instruction promotes knowledge transfer, the ultimate aim of education!

This happens because teachers who utilise differentiation teach not only content but, more importantly, the individual child. Secondly, teachers who customise instructional approaches deliver content more effectively by knowing how to motivate each child effectively.

Accomplishing this does not require extensive training or workshops. Teachers could, in their own simple way, challenge every learner by providing materials and tasks at varied levels of difficulty, with varying degrees of support and varying time limitations. The key is constructive classroom management.


Dr Edward Roy Krishnan is the director of Kent Thailand, Institute of Business & Technology (

www.kentthailand.com). He also lectures in the Graduate School of Psychology, Assumption University. He can be contacted at edwardmsia@gmail.com . To access additional articles by him, visit http://www.affectiveteaching.com.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Edward Roy Krishnan, PHD
Position: Writer