The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Summer Reading XI: Teacher Effectiveness Training

I’ve mentioned a few times since I started my summer reading posts that there were only two books out of the huge pile I had on my nightstand that my principal specifically requested I read over the summer. The first was The Power of Our Words, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The second was Teacher Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. Both books were strongly recommended, but it was also made clear that it was not necessary to read every single word on every single page; rather, I was told I could skim and glean some of the more salient points from the text.

As a general rule, I don’t skim when I read. I like to read it all and make a complete judgement based on everything I have read. But T.E.T. is a book that I did not actually read all of. I didn’t really skim, either. Rather, I read key sections and then skipped around. I enjoyed what was presented and have definitely made some professional goals in regards to the Effectiveness Training model.

Last week I had the opportunity to work with the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute as one of more than three dozen adult volunteer staff members, which is the new name for the Illinois Teen Institute. (More on this at a later point when I have more time to process my dozen or so pages of notes.) As part of this leadership conference for teens, teachers, and community members, I was able to attend a variety of focus workshops. One of the workshops was entitled “Effectiveness Training for Genuine Leadership” and the description made reference to the Effectiveness Model. I figured it could not be just a fluke that the presenter was using those terms, and so I planned on attending. While helping her set up for her session I asked her about it and learned that, indeed, her workshop used the Effectiveness Training model that Dr. Gordan wrote about. There is actually a series of books and training workshops that have been done in addition to the Teacher one. There is also Parent Effectiveness Training and Effectiveness Training for Women, among others. I was able to take what I had read about in T.E.T. and synthesise it with what Cass VanDerMeer shared in her workshop to get a better idea of what Effectiveness Training is all about.

The first thing I have taken away from it is that it is hard. At least, it is hard to do it well. Effectiveness Training is all about removing judgments and labels from our language and focusing on behaviour or actions. Effectiveness is also about using I-messages that don’t blame or accuse others. And yet we label and blame all the time, often without even thinking about it! I was really glad to have been able to chat with a specialist in this, because she gave me a lot of great insights into what Effectiveness looks and sounds like and what it doesn’t. Effectiveness is also a means of helping individuals become assertive rather than aggressive. This last part was a main focus of the workshop, and it is the thing that I want to work on the most as an educator.

There are three ways that people can respond to a situation: passively, aggressively, or assertively. (Passive-aggressive is still aggressive, incidentally.) A passive person allows others to make the decisions for them. If you were to describe a situation in terms of winning or losing, a passive person is in a lose-win situation (the lose, the other wins.) An aggressive person is in a win-lose situation, in which others are hurt in order for him/her to “win” (i.e., get what he or she wants). An assertive person, on the other hand, is in a win-win situation. Both parties get what they want/need. Now, obviously, there will be times when a win-win doesn’t work, especially if one of the parties is intent on hurting a person. But as a general concept, it is possible for me to get what I want and others to get what they want without anyone being hurt. Even in compromise, assertiveness allows all parties to have their interests, desires, or needs to be valued. New teachers all too often swing back and forth between being passive (letting students make the rules) to aggressive (stamping out all opposition). I try hard to be assertive, which can also be thought of as authoritative, but I know that there have been times when I have not been successful. I hope to do better this coming year and will continue to read and reflect upon Dr. Gordon’s text as I do this.

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