Don’t be rigid – it makes you old.
Life is all about balance. We learn about cause and effect from a young age and how to manipulate our environments through certain actions and reactions. We cry and scream to get the necessary food and attention, because we lack more sophisticated methods. As we develop more complex tools such as language, we gradually hone in our abilities to be more efficient and effective – why use all that energy crying when a simple ‘I’m hungry” will do the trick. Our tools are also very adaptable. We have different language to obtain food at home than at a restaurant or event. The development of all of these skills are driven by some basic survival instincts – need for food, love, warmth, etc.
We also develop the discernment to accept certain environments as they are without exerting the effort to change them. When we begin to understand that our survival is not severely jeopardized by missing that one meal, we can learn to accept the situation rather than wasting energy in a futile effort.
So life becomes this balancing act of manipulating and accepting.
Depending on your occupation, that balance can be shifted to a degree one way or the other. Take teaching for example. The habit of instructing others on a daily basis certainly reinforces habits of “environment-manipulation” far more than habits of acceptance. You are the leader, the designer, the bearer of responsibility. So every day you plan carefully the experience of your students.
However it’s crucial to remember that the balance of building/accepting needs to be preserved in the classroom just as much as any other place.
Why is rigidity associated with age? I think it’s simply that older people have repeated their habits more times than younger people. It becomes increasingly harder to accept new environments and situations because the brain remembers only a few safe environments that provide the familiarity and reliability. The brain says “I know this place – I can survive here.”
Some teachers have figured out what works for them in their classrooms, and subsequently they simply repeat the creation of that environment with each successive group of students.
The problems with this are twofold:
- You are teaching the value of inflexibility to your students. IF they buy in to your direction, they will be developing a mindset that will hinder their adaptability to new environments in the future.
- You will probably lose a lot of students who will prefer to build their own environment rather than join yours.
To be effective as a teacher, I think it’s important to maintain a balance between designing the experience (building environment) and accepting the students where they are (entering into THEIR environment).
- Always leave room in your lesson planning for improvisation.
- Listen carefully to what the students are saying. What are they interested in? Why? What are they confused about? What are they enjoying and not enjoying?
- Receive criticism with humility. Most criticism will be indirect and you will have to decode words/actions to figure out what is making students unhappy.
- Make a habit of acceptance in your personal life. If you are a person who always manipulates your environment to get what you want, you won’t be able to change suddenly in the classroom. Learn to let things be as they are and maintain your sense of survival and happiness internally rather than being situation dependent.
- Always learn new stuff. You’ll be more accustomed to changing and less resistant to new environments.
“Learning from a teacher who has stopped learning is like drinking water from a stagnant pond.”