Saturday, May 25, 2013

Learned Helplessness

I like to clear time to just read blog posts each Saturday morning.  As I come closer to end of my graduate studies, I'm finding myself drawn to posts about "leadership" and wondering why I have never been reflective on the idea of "leadership" before.  As teachers we are leaders and the way we lead impacts our students learning and growth. 

This morning, I came across a post titled "Leaders should remove barriers... sometimes they make them worse" and it put in to words thoughts that swim around in my head about "learned helplessness".
"It’s a learned helplessness that occurs when you, or someone with influence over you, decides that something can’t be done, or perhaps in the case of business, can’t be done right."
In the field of special education we so often think about "learned helplessness" be a product of how we interact with students.  Do we overprompt?  Do we do things for them that they can do themselves?  Are we stepping back enough?  Are we pushing them to independent enough?

I think sometimes it comes down to not truly understanding the difference between independence and autonomy.  We believe that if a child can do a certain task without help then we have achieved.  Working with students that I work with kind of puts a monkey wrench in that approach.  But... the students I work with can, and should, achieve autonomy. 

This post reminded me of this video, not so much about "faculty" but about students with disabilities...

In both this video and the blog post that I linked to above we see animal studies where the environment that we set up dictates what the "animals" will do.  The important thing to note in each of the videos is that even when the barrier is removed, the animal behaviour remains the same.

It should make us step back and think about what happens when we put students with disabilities in to self-contained environments.  At that point we are orchestrating their environments in a way that says we believe they are incapable of functioning in the same environment as other students.  Are we setting up barriers to their learning?  Is it possible that we think we are helping them by creating a safer environment (putting on the lid) but in reality we are creating a deeply rooted "learned helplessness" in them? 

I have heard the argument of how we are setting them up to fail by leaving them in the general education classroom becuase they "can't keep up" or the "gap is too big"... that they are better off in self-contained settings where they can "feel good about themselves".   I guess it makes me wonder though if we should be okay with the idea of having environments in our schools where not every child can feel good about themselves when they are in them.  What do we need to change so that they can? 

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