We’re pretty familiar with the think fast/think slow dichotomy but, in a nutshell, the concept is that our highly evolved brains contain various different templates for thinking. At our best, when we’re interested and excited by what we’re doing, our pre-frontal cortex can engage in deliberate, sophisticated thinking. Conversely, when we’re under threat and stressed we switch from the slower thinking to something more automatic, the old hardware of our brain taking over from the newer stuff. This is good when we’re in genuine danger, but when it’s about our ‘sense’ of being under attack it’s less useful. Our decision making becomes much more instinctive and defensive, and sometimes a bit dysfunctional leading us into negative thinking traps. So what are the classic traps and what can you do about them?
I know it’s going to go wrong
One of the ways this can manifest itself is with confirmation bias; in other words, we filter the evidence to reinforce an assumption, often a negative one. Year 8 are going to kick off again, I just know it. They always do on Wednesday afternoons. This combination of making a pre-decision and then bolstering it up with a bit of absolute language (‘never’ ‘always’ completely’) doesn’t give you much chance of turning things around. Again, the key can lie in predicting this. What could you do on Tuesday night to challenge your negative assumptions? What counter evidence could you look for that could give you something positive to take away – it doesn’t have to be big. As you will probably know by now, satisfaction from teaching lies in the small victories and not the ‘Captain, oh my Captain’ moments.
I don’t know where to start?
You know that feeling when you have 1001 jobs to do before tomorrow’s lessons. You start one, but then something else springs to mind and you jump over to that before yet another thing lurches into focus. A classic feature of a fast-thinking brain is its tendency to spin off on random tangents when it comes to prioritising. Give your poor working memory a breather and take some time to write down what you do need to do. How can these tasks be broken down into smaller chunks? What really needs to be done today? Tick it off when you’ve done it. What is realistic as a target and when are you going to give yourself a break or call it a day? Caroline Webb, in her excellent ‘How to Have a Good Day’, calls this making brain-friendly to-do lists.
If I could just change the way they behave…
Recognising the loci of control. There are some things you can be in control of and some things you can’t. You don’t know what might have happened at home or in the playground that might lead to bad behaviour in class, so don’t personalise it. Don’t think it’s all your fault. Victor Frankl’s great message was that there is space between stimulus and response. You can’t change the former, but you can be in control of the latter. Think about the small steps in your own behaviour you might be able to change when things kick off in the classroom. What will make you feel just that extra bit more in control of your own emotions – a deep breath? A mantra of your own? A vision of an empty beach? What can buy you that small moment of space?
I made the wrong decision
The very fact that you have taken yourself out of one world and thrown yourself, head-first, into this completely different life is extraordinary. If it is a success, brilliant. If it isn’t, how amazing that you had the strength and will power to give it a go. How many other people put themselves into such a powerful learning situation? November will come. November will go. December will come. December will go. Christmas. Easter. Summer. Time passes. Your values are what brought you into this world. Finding time and the right kind of space (probably not school, to be honest) to remind yourself of these values can help to keep the mental scaffolding in place.