Simulation teaches teachers leadership

Pupils who interrupt the lesson, arrive late or don’t turn up at all. Teachers face constant challenges. International research shows that teacher training has difficulty preparing students for how they should take charge in the classroom.

Two teachers at the computer during the simulation. Photo credit: Anna NilsenHow can we help aspiring teachers train for difficult situations, so they are prepared when a pupil provokes them?

That is the question Marcus Samuelsson and Gunnel Colnerud, education researchers at LiU, ask themselves back in 2009. It’s not possible to test different leadership styles on pupils in a classroom, and then back up and do it again differently, if things don’t go as planned. That would be neither ethical nor practicable.

But using simulation it can be done. Simulation is a way of recreating reality in a controlled environment. Doctors, pilots and firefighters receive necessary training this way, before facing any real-life situations. Why not teachers as well?

Together with colleagues from computer sciences, Marcus Samuelsson and Gunnel Colnerud apply for funding to develop Sweden’s first simulation for teachers. The funding is granted, and they are able to create a simulation that works something like an interactive radio drama.

Computer screen with a question from the simulation. Photo credit: Anna NilsenWorking as a team, the two participants play the part of Robert, a teacher with 15 years’ experience. For instance they might hear that it is Tuesday morning, the first class of the day, and two pupils are absent. What should ‘Robert’ do? When they have selected an option, they hear the pupils’ reactions. The two participants can consider and discuss how they react and why they make the choices they make. And they can back up, try other options and repeat until they are satisfied.

Today, all the teacher training programmes at LiU use simulation. The reactions are positive; a typical comment is “Every teacher should get to do this”. Practising teachers have also shown interest, and the tool is being spread to more and more people and organisations.

Because there is no doubt that pupils deserve teachers who have practiced and explored their own reactions to provocations – just as airline passengers expect the pilot to have spent many, many hours in a flight simulator before it’s time to take off in a real plane.

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More about the research on leadership in the classroom