Educational Malpractice: Using Student Development Theory to Label

How many times have you heard a colleague talking about a meeting with a student and condescendingly exclaim, “He was so dualistic.” Have YOU ever said that or thought that? I have. Using student development theory in this way, to label and deride, is educational malpractice.

Development theories are meant to help us understand where others are at in their developmental processes so that we can connect, understand, and empathize to help us best determine how we can reach them and offer the most developmentally appropriate intervention to help them grow and learn.

Too often we revert to using student development theory to label, patronize, condescend, and deride students. This can be especially tempting when we feel that we are in an adversarial relationship with the student, for example a conduct hearing or when they are making a complaint. This can also be tempting when we let ourselves get in the way of focusing on the student’s learning. We can get in our own way when we are insecure, tired, sick, hurt, triggered, unsupported, or have any number of unmet emotional needs. When we are in these tough spots student development theory gives us a tool to place ourselves above students in a position of superiority. Although that can feel good when we are struggling, deriding students to meet our own emotional needs is inappropriate. That’s educational malpractice. It is also not a good place to foster learning.

We should use our understanding of student development theory to help us connect with students, related with them, and empathize with them, rather than distance ourselves from them.

How have you misused student development theory? What goes on in your own life or in your relationships with students that pushes you to this place?

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2 Responses

  1. I stress these points anytime I discuss student development theory in my classes. I will be sharing this post with my students so “hear” another voice saying it.

  2. I completely agree! I also believe it could be considered malpractice to only use one theoretical perspective when working with students. If our goal is to view students holistically, we should strive for a broader perspective! Thanks!

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