Increase your Influence with your Students: Part 1
The Secret to the Well-Run Classroom
President Eisenhower is rumored to have carried a piece of string around in his pocket so he could quickly display a powerful principal of leadership to anybody on the drop of a hat. He would get the string out, place it on the table, and demonstrate that if you pushed the string, it barely moved. However, if you pulled the string it would follow you anywhere. People work the same way and students are people (even if we wonder about it sometimes).
Throughout my years in education I have worked as a teacher on many levels. I’ve taught low level, high risk students and high level, low risk students. I’ve taught high school and middle school, which are two totally different animals. I’ve also spent the last few years of my career as an administrator doing discipline at a middle school. This last position has afforded me the unique position of seeing what goes on in various classrooms and has allowed me to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t. I’ve witnessed seasoned teachers who have complete authority and autonomy in their room. I’ve also seen experienced teachers who are on a sinking ship but seem to just be watching it sink. I’ve observed firsthand new teachers crash and burn, but also new teachers who have stopped a volatile classroom and turned it around.
It’s an interesting thing to watch from the outside. A group of students can go into one classroom and act like mature adults, then change classes and turn into complete hellions, the likes of which the devil himself would be proud. Why does this happen? It is a multifaceted problem with a complex answer, but if I could boil it down to one principle, I would have to say it is leadership. It doesn’t matter if you teach grade school, middle school, high school, or even college. The answer is the same: Leadership. If you are a beginning or experienced teacher tired of the behaviors students exhibit in your classroom and fearful that the students are getting worse from year to year, then you may want to think about how you can better establish authority by establishing yourself as the leader.
The Importance of Leadership
I’m reminded of the movie Dead Poets Society, with Robin Williams. In it, he uses creative methods to connect with the students in his class and in the end makes a positive difference in their lives. As educators, we want that experience, we want to make a difference and turn the lives of students around. To do this, you don’t need to learn a magic spell to make students behave; you need to be a better leader. I know that can be a hard pill to swallow, but hear me out for a moment.
When people get together or are forced to be together (such as in a classroom), a leader will emerge. This cannot be changed and it happens every time. If the leader that emerges is a student who wants to cause havoc, you are going to have a miserable class. If this happens you only have a few options. The first option is to allow that student to wreak havoc and only have peaceful days when they are not there. Option two is to allow that student to have control but convince him or her to be on your side (not a bad option, when it works). Option three is to establish yourself as the leader and retain complete control of the classroom. The third option is the one we want to focus our energy on.
Steps to Getting Your Classroom Back
Step 1: Admit There is a Problem and You are It.
We all have that student who we feel needs to take responsibility for their actions. No matter what they do, it isn’t their fault. There was a reason their behavior was justified. The same can be true of you and your classroom. The only way your classroom atmosphere will change is if you stop blaming the students and focus on you. If you shoulder the responsibility of everything that gets out of control, you will certainly not stop everything, but you will dramatically increase your success rate and dramatically reduce your headaches. You might even begin to enjoy teaching again or for the first time.
The lens through which your view your problem will dictate how you deal with it. If you think a class is out of control and there is nothing you can do about it, you won’t do anything. If you accept responsibility for everything and believe that every situation that arises could be handled better, you will act accordingly and make great strides to having complete control.
Step 2: Begin with the Basics
One of the main things you need to do is begin with the basics. Set up systems and procedures in your room. Ask other teachers and the administrators at your school what you can do and then follow their free advice. Don’t assume it won’t work. One of the main problems I see with classrooms out of control is that the teacher is not doing the basics with fidelity. Read up on age appropriate classroom management and implement the ideas you come across. Walk around. Keep things moving so the students don’t get bored. Have a seating chart. Work bell to bell. These are things you probably already know, but take a long look at how well you are doing them. If you have assigned seats, do you expect students to sit in them? There are many free resources on Bright Hub to help you with the basics, be sure you make use of them.