The Invisible Hand of Teachers

How many pairs of hands do you have?

Teachers have ten pairs of hands because they are magnificent multi-taskers forever plate-spinning and picking up the pieces.

But there is another pair of hands teachers possess and they aren’t easy to spot. In fact, you can’t actually see them yet this pair are probably the most important of all.

So what are these ‘invisible hands’?

As Farmer et al (2018) note,

The invisible hand is a metaphor that refers to teachers’ impact on the classroom peer ecology.

Clearly teachers influence what goes on in a classroom and they play a huge role in shaping relationships and moulding the classroom culture.

They have the power to shape the eco-system and peer ecology through seating arrangements, activity groups, disciplinary practices and social experiences and “each student experiences the classroom social ecology in ways that contribute to her or his social behaviour and adjustment,” (Farmer et al, 2018).

Teachers directly influence whether students go home at the end of the day smiling or crying. Without realising it, an intervention or seating choice can crush or it can lift and so it demands teachers are constantly tuning into the frequencies of peer dynamics and relationships.

There can be a tendency to leave children, particularly older students, to manage their own relationships but this is risky because the invisible hand should be there to guide and influence at all times to prompt positive peer interactions. As Audley-Piotrowski, Singer and Patterson (2015) say,

teachers’ influence on children’s peer relations in the classroom must be intentional.

Long before celebrity ‘influencers’ became a thing on social media, teachers were quietly going about their business busy influencing. This will never change even if social media swallows itself whole and vomits egos over the rest of us.

Teachers have always been key influencers, guiding and supporting, directing and inspiring. Their impact on the classroom weather and climate is quite simply enormous.

Forget social media influencers. It’s the teachers that matter and have the most influence on children’s peer relationships, their wellbeing and their interpersonal growth. Surely lockdown and lockdown 2.0 have taught us that teachers do more than just teach. Classrooms are the engine of personal development and need teachers to drive them.

As Farmer et al 2011 note,

Teachers are the one professional in a child’s life who have the opportunity to view the whole child in relation to the social ecology in which he or she is embedded.

We must therefore move away from the human widget image of the profession (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012) based on a “bring ’em in and burn ’em out” model. Teachers are valuable, people that we need to invest in and keep because the influence they wield is enormous.

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