How your teaching style can make a difference

Elaine Thomas

Monday, 17 December 2018

With barriers to learning still a major issue for students from all backgrounds, ‘winging it’ when helping a student to succeed, takes up too much time and does not truly make a difference. John Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention’ can, however, help all educators to master their practice and perform better at ‘helping’ others.

Can your communication style really make a difference?

As you know, how we work with students mirrors how we work with clients in the world of business.

Every student and every client is different. As such, whilst being authentic to who you are, we always benefit from encouraging students to ‘buy into’ learning, developing and growing into their authentic self, with confidence, with the aim that they successfully transition into adulthood and secure their future.

To truly help a student overcome a barrier, solve a specific problem, best practice demonstrates that planning your intervention and style of communicating instead of winging it is beneficial, not because it’s what professionals are paid to do, but because not all interventions are helpful.

And this is where John Heron's ‘Six Categories of Intervention’ come in.

kid looking upjpg

John Heron born in 1928, is above many things a pioneer of participatory research methods and Director of the International Centre for Co-operative Inquiry.

With the understanding that not all interventions are supportive or helpful, he developed a framework that we at The Mentoring Lab currently use to deliver our mentoring training. Mr Heron’s insightful framework helps educators to analyse, understand and improve their communication skills, in order to find the best way to support the student they serve.

Mr Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention framework helps us to;

1. Analyse and plan the communication skills we use to support students
2. Indicate what to say and what to ask based on the appropriate intervention style
3. Develop greater awareness of our innate "helping" style and the impact this has on others
4. Adapt the way we “help” in order to improve the outcome of an intervention or "helping"

Mr Heron placed the six styles of intervention, under two categories; Authoritative and Facilitative

With both categories lie three styles of interventions, detailing the way we ‘help’, within that style.

1. Authoritative

i) Prescriptive – This is where we ‘give’ advice and guidance, tell a student what to do and how they should behave.

ii) Informative – This is where we give our views and experiences to a student, explaining the background and principles of our views, with the aim to help the student to get a better understanding of a matter or issue they are facing.

iii) Confronting – This is where we challenge the student’s thinking; tell the student what we think is causing the barrier to their learning, and then help them to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

lesson planning

2. Facilitative

iv) Cathartic – This is where we help students to express their feelings or fears and empathise with them. John Heron definitely hit the nail on the head with his framework. Clearly demonstrating why and how some interventions are not helpful, whether we are helping students or friends!

v) Catalytic – This is where we ask the student questions to encourage fresh thinking. We encourage them to explore and develop new opportunities and problem-solving solutions, whilst continuously and repetitively listening to them, summarising the discussion and what they have said.

vi) Supportive – This is where we tell the student that we value their classroom contribution, good efforts and achievements, praising them and showing the student that they have our support and commitment.

As you can see the John Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention’ Framework can help us educators take a good look at our innate style of ‘helping’ others and the way we communicate. Challenging us to explore more beneficial ways to engage with the students we serve.

John Heron definitely hit the nail on the head with his framework. Clearly demonstrating why and how
some interventions are not helpful, whether we are helping students or friends!

With our new understanding of alternative and more appropriate styles to communicate and ‘help’ students, let’s join Mr Heron’s aim to improve the impact and outcome of the help we give.

Helping students to grow with confidence and secure their future.

A not so complex pursuit one might say! 


About our Community Expert 


Elaine Thomas
Community Expert

Director of The Mentoring Lab, Elaine has over 15 years of experience in teaching, employment, mentoring, supporting learning and career progression.

Elaine is the Opogo community expert working with young people and adults to prevent underachievement in their learning or careers.

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