Language learner and teacher psychologies: Great plenary session by Sarah Mercer at Clyde auditorium with 3000 audience

Oumar Moussa Djigo's picture

Sarah Mercer really captivated the audience at Clyde auditorium this morning. She raised the crucial topic on learner and teacher psychology by addressing the need for teachers to build a genuine relationship with their learners. She emphasised the pivotal role of teachers as people who are psychologically wise and who know how to make a difference in their learners' lives. Her talk was mainly based on three main points to highlight what wise teachers should focus on:

1. Building positive relationships

Language teaching, she said, is a social process with social beings who need to be recognised as such. It’s about people, communication and interactions. Teachers should therefore nurture their emotional and social intelligence to develop interpersonal connections with learners.

Qualities of good relationships

  1. Work on mutual trust and respect: share about yourself (self-disclosure)
  2. Be empathetic
  3. Be responsive to learner individuality

Sarah gave the Example of Mr White (youtube video), and of Rita Pireson (youtube: every kid needs a champion) that I fully recommend you to watch.

Talking about language learning, she said that teachers must decide what’s appropriate for their context because it will help them to understand how people think and feel which is an important part of psychology. Communication is the key to developing good relationships. Communication implies listening to them, asking questions and being present for each and everyone of them.

2. Understand the role of mindsets for learners and for themselves

There are two types of mindsets: 

  • Fixed mindset refers to learners or teachers who do not have self-confidence and believe that they cannot succeed or persevere in any endeavor. they give up on themselves because they think that they can't achieve their goals.
  • Growth mindset, on the contrary refers to having enough self-confidence to persevere and succeed in any task.

Learners and teachers have mindsets. Teachers’ should be confident to be able to develop emotional intelligence and take control of their CPD or professional development. We should accordingly:

  • Promote a growth mindset in our learnersbecause we are role models, we have to be a great example.
  • View Language learning as a process: praise learners, pay attention to the process of learning. Avoid empty praise.
  • Set up strategies and pathways: teaching learners how to learn. Linley (2008) talks about strength spotting, to refer to focusing on the positive side of the coin when giving feedback to our learners.


3. Nurture their own professional well-being

We should avoid burnout cascade or virtuous cycle (Holmes and Rogers 2012) and learn how to manage our stress. We must consider the following:

  • Our physical condition
  • Our mental condition
  • Our emotional condition (self-compassion)

Below is one of her slides



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