A good Candle aims to make itself redundant

03EC5CAB-0831-4568-BCB2-3993CD05C88BThere are various and multiple reasons why people do the things they do. Each individual draws upon their own experiences and decision-making capacities when making choices in everyday life. It’s the same case in classrooms.

Students can, after all, either choose to follow a teacher’s instructions, or not. They can follow the school rules which reflect the school values, or not. And ultimately we want them to make these decisions not merely “because I said so.”

In Rafe Esquith’s book, “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire”, he addresses this very subject. In the chapter “Searching for Level VI”, he refers to levels of a personal code that students develop in order to “do the right thing” in their lives.

He talks about building a classroom culture in which educators, in fact, want their pupils to follow rules and behave kindly, whether their teacher is in the room or not. Whether the student themselves is in the classroom or not.

He proposes a “road map for life” which encourages learners to have internal motivation rather than external, moving from level I thinking to level VI.

Level I is “I don’t want to get into trouble”. These are the kids whose behaviour changes depending on who’s watching. Who decide what to do based on whether or not they’ll get caught. Whose only moral compass is based on their fear of consequences and punishment. Young children often refer to this level when designing class rules at the beginning of the school year. When you ask them “why should we keep our hands and feet to ourselves?” and they reply  “so you won’t get mad at us” or “so we don’t get detention,” they are using level I thinking.

Level II moves from a focus on negative consequences to positive. These children do things so they can get a reward. They’ll do just about anything for a prize from the prize box but nothing if no material reward is offered. They strive for certificates and trophies, instead of good grades and being a good person. The potential danger when teachers encourage this kind of thinking is that students never learn that good behaviour is expected, rather than rewarded.

Level III is about pleasing others. These kids are the “Teacher’s Pets” of the classroom. They want to please you. They’ll bow to peer pressure because they’ll do anything to avoid confrontation. They want to be popular and make others happy. Without thinking about “what others think/want/expect of me”, they would have no idea of what to do with their lives.

Level IV students are all about the rules. They thrive on structure and boundaries and need clear guidelines (which are abided by no matter what). They see things in black and white and respect the letter of the law. There is no room for grey, or being flexible, or making dispensations for individual circumstance. These people do or don’t do, never stopping to question or critically analyse WHY rules are set. And what about when they leave the school building? They don’t transfer the rules they followed in the classroom to another context. The rules, after all, apply only to that classroom and that teacher.

Level V thinking is where empathy kicks in. This level is where the needs of the people around you are considered. Where decision-making is based on what effect your actions may have on others. Where you can consider different perspectives and points of view. https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/08/21/candle-politeness/

Many people spend their whole lives never reaching this level.

And, finally, we have the ultimate level of ethical thinking, Level VI. This level refers to having a personal code of behaviour and following it. Showing integrity. Considering all circumstances before making a decision.

A person who’s using level VI thinking doesn’t need to brag about their choices, or require guidance and encouragement, to “do the right thing”. They have a strongly developed internal moral compass that guides them.

When the learners in our schools reach level VI thinking, they don’t need us. We have removed ourselves from the decision-making process. Taken ourselves out of the equation.And this is where good Candles situate their kids. Where they are no longer needed.

Where good teaching has made teachers redundant.


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  1. […] When I am taken off class to work on a project, and a supply teacher takes my class, I leave a plan, but I don’t fret. I don’t need to spell out every last detail of how my classroom is run because I know that the kids will do that for me. In fact, they could pretty much run the day without me! Well, just about! https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/08/24/a-good-candle-aims-to-make-itself-redundant/ […]


  2. I reckon I am at about level 3. Moving up to level 6 on a really good day. But capable of slipping on a bad hair day.
    I love the clarity of that categorisation. I also really like the quote, “teach like your hair’s on fire”. Thanks Miss Candle. 🌹


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