Teachers Take An Adlerian Approach
Alfred Adler “believed that the individual begins to form an approach to life somewhere in the first 6 years living” (Corey, 2013, pg. 95). He was an advocate for “training both teachers and parents in effective practices that foster the child’s social interests and result in a sense of competence and self-worth. Adler had a keen interest in applying his ideas to education, especially in finding ways to remedy faulty lifestyles of schoolchildren” (Corey, 2013, pg. 112). Like Adlerian counselors, effective teachers “seek to make a difference in the lives of their [students]” (Corey, 2013, pg. 111) and many of the Adlerian Therapy techniques and underpinnings have been incorporated into many schools and classrooms.
Teachers Take An Adlerian Approach
Alfred Adler abandoned Freudian theories and “focused on the person’s past as perceived in the present and how an individual’s interpretation of early events continued to influence that person’s present behavior” (Corey, 2013, pg. 95). Adler believed that “humans are motivated primarily by social relatedness rather than by sexual urges; behavior is purposeful and goal-directed; and consciousness, more than unconsciousness, is the focus of therapy” (Corey, 2013, pg. 95) His theories and techniques align to many character building activities and programs that are being implemented in schools and classrooms. “He stressed choice and responsibility, meaning in life, and the striving for success, completion, and perfection” (Corey, 2013, pg. 95)
Like “Adlerians [who] put the focus on re-educating individuals and reshaping society” (Corey, 2013, pg. 96), effective educators focus on re-educating the students and reshaping the “society”, that is the school and classroom environments. While they do this, it is important that “the focus is on understanding [the child] within their socially embedded context of family, culture, [and] school...” (Corey, 2013, pg. 97). Teachers have a lot to learn from Adler. “Adler was the forerunner of a subjective approach to psychology that focuses on internal determinants of behavior such as values, beliefs, attitudes, goals, interests, and the individual perception of reality” (Corey, 2013, pg. 96). Effective teachers have the ability to see life from their student’s perspective and realize that “[a student’s] objective reality is less important than how [a student] interpret[s] [their] reality and the meanings [they] attach to what [they] experience” (Corey, 2013, pg. 96).
Climate and Culture
“Very early in life, we begin to envision what we might be like if we were successful, complete, whole, or perfect. Applied to human motivation, a guiding self-ideal might be expressed in this way: ‘Only when I am perfect can I be secure’ or ‘Only when I am important can I be accepted’” (Corey, 2013, pg. 97) Educators play a vital role in developing a climate and culture in their school and classroom where students feel confident, safe, important, and accepted by everyone. In this type of environment students “seek to change [their] weaknesses into a strength” (Corey, 2013, pg. 98). There are many approaches that can be taken and a wide variety of strategies and programs that can be used. Adlerian therapy techniques can be a great resource when trying to develop this type of climate and culture.
Community building activities and character education are important to developing a positive and productive climate and culture. “First [students] think, then [they] feel, and then [they] act. Because emotions and [thoughts] serve a purpose, a good deal of [character education and community building] time is spent in discovering and understanding this purpose and in reorienting the [students] toward effective ways of being” (Corey, 2013, pg. 104). Also, doing these activities frequently at the beginning of the school year allows relationships to form and respect to be earned early on. “Social interest requires that [students] have enough contact with the present to make a move toward a meaningful future, that [they] are willing to give and to take, and that [they] develop [their] capacity for contributing to the welfare of others and striving for the betterment of [their classmates]” (Corey, 2013, pg. 99). Along the way, there is a constant focus on expectations and how each person in the room will be treated and what behavior and vocabulary is acceptable. “While Adler considered social interest to be innate, he also believed that it must be learned, developed, and used” (Corey, 2013, pg. 99). Taking this into consideration, these teachers “place special value on...modeling of communication and acting in good faith” Corey, 2013, pg. 104. There is great emphasis placed on being respectful, responsible, and safe and what that looks like, sounds like, and feels like. The classroom and school is beginning to become a socially safe and empathetic environment. “Adler equated social interest with a sense of identification and empathy with others: ‘to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of another’” (Corey, 2013, pg. 99)
Social interest is the central indicator of mental health. Those with social interest tend to direct the striving toward the healthy and socially useful side of life...[Students] are primarily motivated by a desire to belong...Those who lack this community feeling become discouraged and end up on the useless side of life...Only when [they] feel united with others are [they] able to act with courage in facing and dealing with [their] problems (Corey, 2013, pg. 99).
In a classroom with an established and effective climate and culture, students begin to “act with courage” and trust their classmates enough to share their struggles, accept their failures, and to ask for help. “Encouragement is the most powerful method available for changing a [student’s] beliefs, for it helps [them] build self-confidence and stimulates courage...Loss of courage, or discouragement, results in mistaken and dysfunctional behavior. Discouraged people do not act in line with social interest” (Corey, 2013, pg. 101).
Encouragement is the most distinctive Adlerian procedure, and it is central to all phases of counseling and therapy. It is especially important as people consider change in their lives. Encouragement literally means ‘to build courage’. Courage develops when people become aware of their strengths, when they feel they belong and are not alone, and when they have a sense of hope and can see new possibilities for themselves and their daily living. Encouragement entails showing faith in people, expecting them to assume responsibility for their lives, and valuing them for who they are...Adlerians believe discouragement is the basic condition that prevents people from functioning, and they see encouragement as the antidote. As a part of the encouragement process, Adlerians use a variety of relational, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and experiential techniques to help clients identify and challenge self defeating cognitions, generate perceptual alternatives, and make use of assets, strengths, and resources (Corey, 2013, pg. 110).
With an encouraging environment, students begin to work collaboratively and cooperatively with their classmates. They encourage and celebrate each other’s accomplishments and successes. All students are invested in the meaning and purpose and are contributing to their learning and the learning of others.
In this type of environment, the student/teacher relationship looks much different than that of a traditional, compliance based environment. Like the counselor/client relationship within Adlerian practices, the student/teacher relationship “rests on a collaborative arrangement... [which] includes forming a relationship based on mutual respect” (Corey, 2013, pg. 101). Teachers who nurture and encourage this type of learning environment, “do not view [students] as being [bad] and in need of being [fixed]. They favor the growth model” (Corey, 2013, pg. 101) Similarly, “the Adlerian is interested not in curing the sick individuals or a sick society but in re-educating individuals and in reshaping society” (Corey, 2013, pg. 101) “From the beginning of [the school year], the relationship is a collaborative one, characterized by two persons working equally toward specific, agreed-upon goals” (Corey, 2013, pg. 104). Because of the collaborative relationship that is formed and that it has been built on a foundation of respect, these teachers don’t see themselves in the way that the word “teacher” represents within a traditional framework. They prefer to be called “coaches” or “lead learners”. Similarly, they like to identify their students not as “students”, but as “learners”.
When working with students to create an environment with this type of climate and culture, it doesn’t come without some challenges. Some students will see their teacher as the “expert” and expect that the teacher “will provide them with solutions to their problems” (Corey, 2013, pg. 117). For these students, the role of “coach” may pose problems because these teachers don’t allow themselves to take on the role of experts that solve students’ problems. The philosophy is that teachers are “lead learners” and the students are “learners” and in no way can that imply that the teacher is the “keeper” of all of the knowledge. Taking on that role, would be toxic to the environment and the time spent developing the climate and culture. The students need to know that their knowledge is valuable and that they have something powerful to offer to the group. The students that struggle with taking on this challenge struggle with growth mindset. In those circumstances and situations, there are activities and strategies that can be used to develop a positive growth mindset. A way to avoid having students who may struggle with this student/teacher relationship, it is important, with all students, to “begin to formulate a [Personalized Learning Plan]...detailing what they want [to achieve], how they plan to [achieve] it, what is preventing them from successfully attaining their goals, how they can change nonproductive behavior into constructive behavior, and how they can make full use of their assets in achieving their purposes” (Corey, 2013, pg. 104) In other words, how they are going to show their understanding of a concept and align it to their individual learning style and interests.
In summary, these “lead learners” or “coaches” incorporate many of the same philosophies as Adlerians and develop a positive climate and culture within their classroom/school. Similar to the Adlerian approach, they “focus on making person-to-person contact with [students] rather than [focusing on] ‘the problem’”(Corey, 2013, 105). Their successes are attributed to guiding students to “become aware of their assets and strengths rather than dealing continually with their deficits and liabilities...A positive relationship is created by listening; responding; demonstrating respect for [students] capacity to understand purpose and seek change; and exhibiting faith, hope, and caring” (Corey, 2013, pg. 105). Most importantly, their students are “encouraged and challenged to develop the courage to take risks and make changes in their life” and in the lives of others (Corey, 2013, pg. 110).
In The Future
The strategies and techniques explained above align with all of the personalized learning research and implementation that a team of teachers, support staff, administrator, and myself did last school year at Lincoln Elementary School in Janesville, WI. As I read chapter five on Adlerian Therapy, I couldn’t help but find connections to personalized learning and the phases of implementation. In phase one of implementation, there is a focus on developing climate and culture, having a student centered environment, goal setting, gradual release of control, and developing a Personalized Learning Plan, just to name a few. I am extremely passionate about this topic and the benefits of developing this type of environment with the learners. As a school counselor, I plan to continue this journey and implement many, if not all, of the personalized learning strategies into how I serve students in that role. I really enjoyed reading about the Adlerian theory and applying it to something I do everyday. So far, I think I relate most to this type of therapy and think that it supports my beliefs and values. As I read, I also thought that if I were to personally seek out a therapist for myself or my children, it would be someone that takes an Adlerian approach. I also feel that this style of therapy could lend itself really well to faith based counseling which I am in strong support of.
Corey, Gerald (2013). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Observation (2014-2015). Lincoln Elementary School. Janesville, WI: Personalized Learning.