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Emotions and Learning

Pride of place

I often say to myself when I have a particularly difficult class, ‘as long as they don’t hate me.’ This is not in the mistaken belief that I somehow need their approval as a teacher for my lessons to be fulfilled. It is also not some self need, I don’t need to be liked. It is based on experience in the classroom alone. I have been lucky that maybe only a small number of students have disliked or hated what I do. All of which related to their personal journey. I work hard to not leave students upset, for when they are I lose them, all learning stops. The student that I chastise becomes more difficult, unable to maintain their self-control, caused through my immediate actions and their past experiences (of which I am not usually privy to and can only guess at).

I have never hated a student, not even the one who destroys each and every lesson. It is a strong emotion that doesn’t belong with any Human. Dare I say, it leads to the dark path! Humour, found through experience once again, can evaporate most angst in a student taking the sting out of situations leaving them with some self-esteem. I reflected on emotions no further, until a situation presented itself and I thought about pride. I found the following article that explained so much more and, in hindsight, explains so much about student learning.

Reinhard Pekrun, Emotions and Learning, Educational Practices Series – 24, International Academy of Education, 2014

There is more to teaching and emotions than hate and humour. And how do they work anyway? In this article they are separated into four emotional areas;

  • Achievement
  • Epistemic
  • Topic
  • Social

So far I have discussed working in the social emotional area. In my classrooms I have identified that I have also had some small influence with the Achievement and Epistemic emotions as well. This I have done by claiming to the students that the results of a particular test in itself is not important but the growth of the student over time, shown as an improvement in grades, is more important. Setting up cognitive confusion in a student’s mind and then giving them the skills to solve it tap into their epistemically emotions. A teacher can work out these emotional triggers by experiencing it through the practical application of the teaching art. But is there more to be had?

Don’t guess about their emotions, build up trustful relationships and simply ask them how they feel. Students vary and so do their emotions in similar situations so, even though it is convenient/easier to assume, each situation may need to be explored fully to understand the individual. Use this information to help them experience posemotions-and-learningitive emotions by exploring situations that invoke them. The more challenging the child the greater the effort to solve his/her deficiencies in emotions.

Positive emotional experience needs to be linked to the task of solving cognitive problems and the learning material in the lesson. Create situations where they can feel positive, their ability to solve problems and their self-confidence will improve. Focus students on what is under their control, their strengths and the ways they can improve themselves. Negative emotions need to be avoided as they can undermine learning and achievement. When they cannot be avoided, deal with them in a positive way.

What are your own emotions during a lesson? What are your students? Have you created situations where you have manipulated their emotions to best effect, eased their fear before/during/after a test? Made them feel proud about the work they have completed? We have all done it, now just do it with purpose.


Yes, we have to model what we think is best for society and once you are a teacher then you are judged in the public eye. If you transgress what your community deems appropriate, for best manners and deportment, then you can expect to feel their wrath. We teach these same protocols to 21st Century learners and expect them to also comply, thus teachers are a product of their own making. What happens then when our culture evolves and the societal norms change? Do we continue with ‘business as usual’ giving instruction in the same time honored way? Is that what is expected from us?

We have to model what we think is best for society. But, society needs to tell us what they want. Once Australia has decided the direction it wishes to take then we will follow with our targeted skills to get the most out of every individual. We have to inform those in power of the importance of education – with direction. Currently we are dictated to by commercialism where we see people commercialised and exploited for profit. How long has it been since you saw an advertisement or worse still, acted on its advice and purchased the item ‘just because’?

Our role in society is not to give a belief system/structure, it is to give students the skills to make informed decisions. How we go about that is by using what society presents to us. During this transition phase into the ‘brave new world’ we have to use these structures, which are accessible to the classroom. If a student presents with low engagement, truncated literacy, ADD, ADHD, a poor home life, depression or any one of many things that are becoming more prevalent in schools, we need to use their commercialised belief structure to access them.

A paradigm shift is upon us. We cannot continue with business as usual, a metamorphosis is imminent and we have to evolve. We need to sell education. This sell cannot be like a fast food outlet providing high GI food, it has to be low GI brain food that we provide and sell it in a way that does not hijack the learner and leave them with the dogma of commercialisation. Generate positive emotions to access people’s intrinsic motivation, its longer lasting and better for you. Tell them how good they are, you may be the only person today to do so. Students learn a teacher, so sell yourself as someone that values education, sell your subject, your school, education. After you have achieved this ask the community where they want to be in the 22nd Century.

Psychology of choice

Edification Celebration (EdCeleb)
1. The moral or intellectual instruction or improvement of someone.
2. The action of celebrating an important day or event.

We are all under the illusion of choice. I choose to write this article; I choose to watch the television shows of my choice; I choose which food to put into my body; I choose how I react to different situations. I just finished watching a show on Derren Brown: ENIGMA where the participants in the show are given choice that turns out to be fictitious. I don’t know how he did it except to say that he uses extensive psychology in his shows. The power of suggestion cannot be underestimated as he explores the weaknesses of the human mind.

How can I use this in education?