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Managing emotion key to small group teaching

Tuesday, 16 December 2014 8:54pm

Alfie Blakey image
Althea Blakey is looking at how small group teachers might best develop medical students' thinking. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

Managing student and teacher emotion is key to developing thinking in small groups, Otago research suggests.

Althea Blakey (of HEDC and the Faculty of Medicine) is in the final few months of her PhD looking at how small group teachers might best develop medical students’ thinking, and the staff development processes that might best support them. Her year-long project was based in the Early Learning in Medicine programme, in which she has taught for some time.

Ms Blakey, who is one of the first holders of the Faculty of Medicine Medical Education Scholarship, says she aimed to help students better develop thinking in ways required for professional and personal life.

"I found some needed a teacher to help them strategically manage their fear before they even engaged in such processes, for example fear of group speaking, looking like a twit, or talking to teachers."

“I found some needed a teacher to help them strategically manage their fear before they even engaged in such processes, for example fear of group speaking, looking like a twit, or talking to teachers.

“Developing student thinking was also an emotional business for teachers. I found they needed assistance to strategically deal with student fear, because it was either expressed as a ‘challenge’ or expressed in less straightforward fashion such as criticism of the programme. Teachers needed help to avoid ‘knee-jerk’ reactions or missing them entirely.”

Ms Blakey spent a year working with five medical teachers, to develop ideas about how best to teach this way, and how best to support the teachers. She interviewed them, observed and videoed their practice and met with them regularly.

“It was a privilege to work with such committed and talented teachers, she says. “The most profound finding was that the best way to manage student fear was simply to care about them. If you don’t, they really get it and they won’t take those risks. For teachers, I found that my peer-developer interaction was vital to help them recognise and manage their emotional reaction. This worked because I was not associated with employment or evaluation.”

"... if we can get our students to be more emotionally competent, then our future doctors will have better skills for clinical practice."

One of her supervisors, Clinton Golding of HEDC, says Ms Blakey’s research provides a “deeper, more practical understanding of how we might foster critical thinkers”.

The Convenor of Healthcare in the Community Dr Hamish Wilson agrees.

He says Ms Blakey’s research is very supportive of the emerging concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ – being aware of feelings and stronger emotions in others and in ourselves.

“These are key skills for clinical practice, given the troubling nature of illness and how often doctors themselves are affected by the patient’s situation.

“This research backs up our current teaching on the doctor/patient relationship; if we can get our students to be more emotionally competent, then our future doctors will have better skills for clinical practice.”

Ms Blakey has a background in radiation oncology. In 2011 she was awarded a Master’s of Health Science (Clinical Education) with Distinction and she will finish her PhD in 2015. As a result of this research, she has received a rare 99/100 score on her teaching evaluations this year.