I was watching a new and original broadcast series from YouTube Red called Mind Field. In this first episode, the host investigated the concept of isolation. Experienced isolation is probably more accurate, as the show documented his 72 hour stay in a brightly lit all white room completely isolated from any human contact (direct or virtual). Prior to his confinement, he used the first part of the show to present reasonable expectations for what he might encounter during that time, as well as explored possible negative effects of 3 days with limited stimulus. Turns out, brain damage is one of those. I haven’t seen the second episode, but now I will understand if it isn’t quite as good as the first.
One of the first consequences of isolation like this is boredom. In his discussion of boredom the program host, Michael Stevens, introduced Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. He noted that as boredom intensifies it becomes disgust, and as disgust intensifies it becomes loathing. I was fascinated by this, so I looked up Plutchik’s Wheel, (presented below) which was first published in 1980. Now, as a behavioral psychologist, I am prone to dismiss much of this as “private events” or “covert behavior,” but I am not immune to having a little fun.
What I found was very interesting. Plutchik identified 8 primary emotions, one of which is trust. He also identified a more intense feeling of trust he labeled admiration. This was remarkable to me, as a cornerstone of the Conditions for Learning is a student/teacher relationship based on trust and esteem (which I will treat as a synonym of admiration). If I understand the wheel correctly, it implies that trust and admiration are different intensities of the same primary emotion that helps people create supportive and mutually beneficial relationships or friendships.
The wheel has a very interesting construction. The primary emotions are set in the middle band of the wheel: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. More intense expressions of those emotions are located in the center of the wheel, and less intense expressions are located further out each spoke. Opposite emotions are located on opposite spokes of the wheel, and adjacent spokes display more closely related emotions.
The next thing to understand is that the primary emotions work in combination and are called dyads. Dyads made from adjacent primary emotions are considered “often felt.” You can see from the chart above that joy and trust combine to make love, which is commonly experienced. As dyads include emotions further away on the wheel, they express rarer emotions, until opposites create conflict, or nonsense. The wheel diagram above includes the primary dyads along the outer rim.
Interesting to me are the dyads that include trust. These dyads might suggest emotions that are integral to effective learning environments; they include from often to seldom felt: love and submission, curiosity and fatalism, and sentimentality and dominance. Some of these are a bit alarming (fear and surprise), but love and curiosity work. Let’s put curiosity on our list of desirable emotions for classrooms along with trust and joy. I won’t include love as it is already expressed in the combination of trust and joy.
In another chart that I created years ago to describe the Conditions for Learning, I suggested that joy would be an indication of trust. In our data collection tools, we ask students if their teachers seemed to enjoy being a teacher. This has always been seen as an indication of trust between the student and teacher. That is, if students are aware of their teacher’s joy, then they see the teacher in a positive light and must feel trust. The same joyous teacher behaviors seen from a student that distrusts the teacher would not be perceived as joy. Thus, that cute little laugh that Johnny likes so much is seen by Sally as a demonic threat. See what I mean?
Plutchik’s Wheel treats trust and joy distinctly, so this might suggest that joy too is an emotion worth examining. The dyads that include joy from often to seldom felt are: love and optimism, guilt and pride, and delight and morbidness. So, I would include optimism to our list of desirable emotions for a typical classroom or school. I leave off delight as it seems too similar to joy itself.
So, where did this get us? Well, considering these emotions as latent constructs (stuff you can’t measure directly) doesn’t really help inform educators. That is, you can counsel a teacher to create trust or engender joy or encourage curiosity, but without more concrete inputs and outputs, the advice would have little effect. The next step seems to be just that, if trust, joy, curiosity, or optimism is experienced, what do we do to produce those feelings, and how do we know if they are felt?
I felt inspired to make my own colorful chart. It lists our four desirable classroom emotions, the actions and characteristics (inputs) teachers should mind to create those emotions, and the noticeable consequences (outputs) when that emotion is felt by students.
Loads of books, articles, etc have been written about each of these emotions, but to keep things reasonable, I boiled them down to a couple of observable inputs each. Keep in mind that I am putting this discussion in the context of teacher and student, but all of this generalizes well to principal and faculty, employer and employee, parent and child, spouse and spouse, friend and friend, and on and on.
Trust is created when the teacher displays competence and regularly expresses empathy. Competence is perceived when teachers are timely, apply rules consistently, are above the emotion of conflict, know curricular content, manage their classroom well, and accept accountability for misunderstandings or mistakes. Teachers should also be transparent about expectations and consequences, show respect for cultural differences and special needs, and to express empathy when students are struggling or expressing frustration. When these actions are taken, students should display confidence. That is, students are more likely to start and complete assignments. They are also more likely to seek the teacher’s attention maturely, not for hollow approval seeking.
Joy is created from joy, at least in my opinion. However, I should point out that there seems to be two kinds of joy: collaborative joy and competitive joy. Collaborative joy comes when a person helps another achieve something joyful. Competitive joy comes when a person improves (that is, they compete against a former self) or shows greater skill or knowledge than someone else. Each has their place and balance is the goal. For the table, I included sharing and humor as the inputs. Teachers can share more than knowledge and experience; they can share appropriate things about themselves that place student-teacher interactions in context. Of course, playfulness and humor should be welcome in classrooms. Nothing says more than spontaneous laughter. And even more powerful, in my mind, is a genuine smile.
Curiosity is certainly one of the primary goals of education. We want children to continue learning long after they leave classrooms behind. The first input to curiosity is praise. I put this because of a study I designed and conducted a few years ago. In the study I examined how affirmation of correct behavior versus negation of misbehavior affected learning. The data were profound. Learners were far more likely to explore in positive environments and were all but paralyzed in negative environments. The other input here is speculation. I couldn’t come up with a better term. What I mean is that teachers regularly pose questions to students to inspire a search for answers and occasionally the development of unique solutions. The consequence of curiosity has to be engagement. Curious people are busy people.
The last desirable emotion on our list is optimism. Remember that optimism is related to joy, but a close and important cousin is hope. Hope requires inclusion. There is no possible way for an isolated student, either because of culture, language, skills, manners, or appearance, to be hopeful. Teachers must act to make every student feel included. The second input is experimentation. This is another case where a better word just wasn’t available. What I mean here is that students need hands on experiences. Lecturing can never be enough. Students must experience correct responding to give them hope that the next response might be correct as well. This would mean solving math problems, reading aloud, solving puzzles, etc. Students should experiment. The outcome of optimism should be persistence. Experience with success is a great motivator.
So now we have dealt with the desirable classroom emotions. It would be interesting to examine their opposites. Thanks to Plutchik and a thesaurus, we can do that. First the direct opposites of trust and joy are disgust and sadness. They combine to make remorse. The dyads using these two emotions yield: shame, contempt, cynicism, morbidness, sentimentality, despair, disappointment, envy, and pessimism. It’s interesting to note that optimism and pessimism are not opposites, as they both share anticipation. The opposite of optimism is disappointment and the opposite of pessimism is delight.
Above is our table of undesirable classroom emotions with their inputs and outputs. The transformation doesn’t make perfect sense, but both the inputs and outputs are quite striking. The table suggests that if a teacher is incompetent and callous, students will be insecure. It also suggests that if teachers are selfish and employ an overly dramatic affect, students will become sullen. If teachers use criticism and don’t engage the students, they will become detached or disinterested. And finally, if teachers exclude students and prohibit practice, students will eventually give up. Why does Hogwarts come to mind?
Emotion is a very amorphous subject. Measurement of emotions is very tricky, making operationalizations more a matter of opinion. I’m not sure many will agree with our short list of desirable classroom emotions, and there are certainly more that weren’t considered. This might not have been a perfect or reproducible process, but it has been fun.