16 February 2012

On a classroom double-bind

A colleague has just circulated links to a  package on Learning to Teach Inclusively, which includes a video on "setting ground rules".

Social Work - Classrom session - Setting inclusive ground rules from Learning to Teach Inclusively on Vimeo.

You might like to watch it and think about (OK--"reflect on") your impressions before clicking to get past the break below.

What did you make of it?

It's not the most egregious example I've seen, but I've witnessed this (and indeed perpetrated it) many many times in over twenty years in social work education. I suspect that this clip has been constructed for the purposes of the video, by the way, and does not reflect the reality of routine practice.

The problem is that making a big deal out of "inclusive ground rules" is pretty well the best way of creating the self-consciousness and inhibition which it is supposedly intended to mitigate. If I were in that class, even if I felt comfortable about talking about my experiences when I went in, I'd be thinking twice by the time the lecturer had finished her spiel--especially when she winds it up by effectively forbidding jokes.

(And there is a stangely intense and almost pious tone of voice which is sometimes adopted, which usually makes things worse--not really applicable in this case, thank goodness.)

OK--so how does one talk about those ground rules? In combination with other information, like fire exits. Matter-of-factly. Because you have to model being comfortable with sensitive issues--and if you are not comfortable then there is no chance for the students. Probably you'll only do it once explicitly, at the first meeting. (That does not go for some other ground-rules, such as not interrupting, which will require continual reminders; but this is not about discouraging some behaviour--it's about encouragement, more than controlling infractions.)

Or--do it properly, and spend half-an-hour on it, including groupwork and writing up the students' versions of ground-rules on a flip chart to put up in the room--and make sure it is linked to some proper course content.

If you feel the need to remind the students, be aware that every mention may push them away rather than encourge them to come forward. So use something like a power-point slide which can be shown in a ritual fashion at the beginning of every session, and briefly referred to if necessary. (Photograph the flip-chart pages and put them on the slide, so the paper versions don't get tatty.)

Otherwise one runs the risk of a session like this--pity I wasn't able to video it--the immediate point starts at para. 14.

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