Teaching through Emotions

where emotions and relationships are central to teaching and learning

Teacher Support Groups

Teacher Support Groups are highly effective Professional Learning Communities that use emotional and relational data to improve teaching and learning.

In the psychotherapy field, therapists are expected to receive weekly “supervision.” That is, they visit a qualified therapist to talk frankly (and confidentially) about the particularly difficult or mystifying experiences they have had with clients that week. Did a client fall silent during a session, refusing to talk? Did the therapist feel angry at a client? Was the therapist struggling with feelings of attraction to a client?

Really interesting questions, right? The supervisor’s job is to help the therapist understand what these experiences and emotions mean about the therapist-client relationship. Having a chance to air and understand these difficult, sometimes even embarrassing, experiences can make the difference between a failed therapeutic relationship and remarkable healing.

I am convinced that teachers need the same kind of supervision. They need a chance to share the difficult experiences they have every teaching day with someone who is trained to seek meaning in emotions and behaviors. Sharing these experiences can be intensely relieving. Figuring out their meanings and acting on that understanding can make the difference between failed teaching and remarkable student learning and achievement.

Teacher Support Groups are a form of supervision. A Teacher Support Group consists of up to nine teachers who meet regularly, every week, to talk about and make sense of their teaching. These meetings are facilitated by a supervisor who is trained psychodynamically; that is, she is able to look, with the help of the teachers, for the personal meanings of emotions and behaviors. Supervisors are also able to help teachers think through possible actions they can take based on their enhanced understanding of their classroom’s dynamics. The Support Group holds all of this activity, forming an intensely safe space in which teachers can acknowledge and explore the bottom-line truth about teaching: that it is inescapably emotional and relational.

Psychodynamically-oriented peer support groups are common in the social work field. They have been implemented in the medical field. But, as far as I know, they do not happen with any regularity in the field of education. Teaching through Emotions aims to make Teacher Support Groups easy to organize and maintain, as teachers clearly need the kind of thoughtful, non-judgmental, non-evaluative, empathic, liberating support these groups offer. Their students need them to have it, too.

Here are some outcomes teachers can expect from Teacher Support Groups, all reported by current and previous participants:

  • resolutions to difficult interactions with specific students, colleagues, etc.
  • deepened understanding of students’ learning styles and their own teaching styles
  • better attuned, more effective and efficient teaching
  • excitement about teaching
  • strong relationships with the colleagues in the Support Group
  • immediate relief from stress and anxiety
  • personal growth

But, you might ask, how can I form a Teacher Support Group? Another interesting question. Click here for more information.

1 Comment

  1. I participated last year in a teacher support group, facilitated by Betsy Burris, and I can tell you this: I have not felt this enthusiastic about teaching, or this effective in the classroom, in years. Betsy showed me how to pay attention, not to what my students were doing, but to what they were saying to me through what they were doing. What I had seen as simply frustrating behaviors, turned out to be instructions from the students on how to reach them, on what their reaction was to the material I was trying to present, and to the way I was trying to present it. In-class relationships with and among students – something I had paid almost no attention to, because I’d never been trained to notice and to talk about them – became a real focus of my teaching practice, and almost overnight, my experience at work was transformed. And I’d been teaching for 15 years! I cannot say enough about what Betsy’s support group has done for me, by way of improving the way I see my colleagues, my students, and myself. Betsy teaches teachers to to take care of themselves, which leads directly, necessarily, to taking better care of students. Everybody wins!

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