Emotions and Teaching Adults
By Jane Littlefield
Thanks to critical reflection and my wise colleagues and mentors at Saint Mary’s, I continue to learn much about myself in my role as a teacher of adult learners. Especially for me, for whatever reasons, a large part of my critical reflection is tuning into my emotions. I’m not talking the surface stuff and or how I consciously project myself to my students – I’m talking about the deeper stuff, the confidence and excitement and anxiety I bring into the classroom along with my notes.
I’ve always figured my emotions affect the way I teach but I wasn’t really aware of how. Though little higher education research is available, the studies that do exist explore how emotions affect teaching style, the learning environment you create, and the risks you’re willing to take in the classroom. Basically, the more positive your emotions, the more student-focused and facilitative you become in your approach to teaching; conversely, when you carry negative emotions you resort to a teacher-focused, lecture, information-transmission format (Postareff & Lindblom-Ylänne, 2011; Trigwell, 2012). As teachers of adult learners, we know that staying student-focused is key to creating active learning experiences, bridging content with real-world relevance, and providing meaningful feedback. Being student-focused also requires flexibility and adaptability, patience and empathy. Alas, when you’re feeling frustrated or unconfident, it is harder to cultivate and practice these skills.
|Positive Emotions’ Effects on Teaching
- Adoption of more of a conceptual change/student-focused approach to teaching
- Generate more teaching ideas and strategies
- Positively affect students’ motivation in learning
- Able to focus more on what students are doing and experiencing
- More courageous or risk-taking teaching
- More engagement with students, more questioning of knowledge and more openness to discussion and debate
- More aware of self as teacher
|Negative Emotions’ Effects on Teaching
- Adoption of more of an information transmission/teacher-focused approach to teaching
- Unlikely to succeed to solve classroom problems
- Focus and attention distracted from instructional goals
- Reduced teacher intrinsic motivation
- Negatively affect students’ motivation in learning
- Reduce time given to working with students in discussions and questioning
Do you recognize behaviors or symptoms in the graph above? Despite the smile you might plaster on your face, what you internally bring to the classroom each week will, in part, dictate how class will go and on a related note, how much your students might learn. When you’re enthusiastic and excited, you and your students can more easily enter a state of learning flow. So if you’re feeling down (and who isn’t, with this winter we’re experiencing), take a moment to remember that in addition to your physical health, it is so important to cultivate your mental health and your positive emotional teaching energy. Learn what methods work for and excite you – getting to a "good place" is a very personal process and it takes time to become comfortable and effective. (Me? I run, drink a big cup of tea, and listen to music.)
Postareff, L., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2011). Emotions and confidence within teaching in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 36(7), 799-813. doi:10.1080/03075079.2010.483279
- Trigwell, K. (2012). Relations between teachers’ emotions in teaching and their approaches to teaching in higher education. Instructional Science, 40, 607-621.
- Weimer, M. (2014, February 19). The emotions that fuel our teaching [Blog post]. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/emotions-fuel-teaching/