How to Manage Learned Helplessness in Your Relief Classroom

Learned Helplessness

How to manage learned helplessness in your relief teaching classroom.

Learned Helplessness can catch you out.

Behaviour Management. Pfft! It's a breeze! You think.

You believe the time is right for your students to start their independent work. The skills have but covered and now it is time for the kids to put these skills into practice.

You send the kids on their way to start independent practice. Now is the time to start monitoring their individual activity by working with the occasional student who needs support.

Learned Helplessness

This seems pretty straight forward classroom management and you would think behaviour management would be fairly easy as a result. Everyone should be on task and your job, as you see it, would be just to correct a few individual misconceptions.

But it doesn't go that way. Only a couple of regulars seem to be independent. The rest of the kids are just sitting there.

Little activity is taking place. While you are attempting to work with one student there seems to be a growing number of kids requiring your help.​

You are battling just trying to keep up with the demands for assistance. Hands going up faster than the price of fuel. Most of your students seem unable or unwilling to dig into their work.

They've caught Learned Helplessness

You were just about to pat yourself on the back for a great lesson and now you are starting to doubt your ability to teach how to boil water. Unfortunately, you find yourself bustling from one student to another reteaching what you just taught - over and over again to a number of students.

You start to wonder what you just taught to the class just a few minutes ago.

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Learned Helpless is Exhausting.

As you finish with one student another is waiting for you to work with them and another is watching; waiting for their turn.

You start to wonder whether you should start from scratch.

Because the kids waiting in the wings are unfocused, their behaviour starts to deteriorate. Now you are not only trying to teach stuff you just taught, you are implementing behaviour management strategies on the run as well.

This is learned helplessness at its worst. Ok. Time to take a breath!

Learned Helpless isn't so much about NOT having the ability to do the work, it is often the inability to become self motivated.

This is learned behaviour. It is a lot easier to ask for help, receive help and have someone else pretty much do all the work for you.

Learned helplessness is a learned behaviour and many relief teachers fall for the trap.

If you have ticked all the boxes for understanding and you believe students have the skills to move forward, it is time to cut the apron strings. Learned helplessness and receiving individual support is the preferred modus operandi for a lot of students.

Most of these kids have parents whose strategy is to TELL them what to do. Independent thought is a skill that kids now have to be taught. For some kids, getting a problem wrong is an untenable situation akin to wearing flared jeans.

It just isn't done.

Don't build a Learned Helplessness Circle.

The more you jump in and provide assistance as the first point of call, the more your class will be asking for help. The big problem with supporting learned helplessness is that students won't attempt the independent work without your assistance.

Their hands will be idle. And you know what they say about idle hands? 

Your behaviour management strategies will become more and more intrusive and your lessons will become less and less focused.

Don't get me wrong, you will always need to help some individual students. However, make them jump hoops before you offer assistance rather than the other way around.

To avoid learned helplessness, set some benchmarks before offering support.

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Before you provide any student with assistance they must show that ...... well how about coming up with some answers here. I don't want to force feed you after all and keep supporting learned helplessnes.

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