Take CHARGE of the Classroom #11: Positivity
This is post #11 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.
A classroom’s climate is its background noise. It’s the energy, mostly unseen, that fills in every space and shapes how you and your students interact with each other. For example, a student might bump into another student while walking up the aisle toward your desk. In a positive climate, the student that was bumped would most likely think that it was an accident. The errant student would apologize quickly, set anything right that was knocked askew, and the matter would be over. If you even noticed it, you might thank the offending student for apologizing and ask the student that was bumped if he or she was okay.
Imagine the same situation in a negative climate. The student who was bumped jumps to the worst possible conclusion and believes the bump was either an intentional act, a precursor to more intimidation to come, or both. That student immediately retaliates, shoving back and yelling something sharp and profanity-laced. The initial student, regardless of the purposeful or accidental nature of the bump, is now on the defensive. Not willing to lose face, this student responds in kind and a simple situation becomes a rapidly deteriorating dumpster fire.
You, as the ever-vigilant teacher, are on the lookout for your little hoodlums to show their true colors. Whichever action you happen to see first, either the bump or the reaction, raises alarm bells in your mind. Not wanting your authority to be diminished in any way, you jump in feet first, yelling at the students, shaming them for such an insensitive act and demanding that everyone take their seats immediately. Throwing gasoline onto the fire, one or both of the students involved resent the injustice of your quick judgment and decide that backing down is not an option.
It largely depends on the climate of the classroom. This emotional dark matter that fills every crack and cranny of your room is influenced over time by one small act after another. It doesn’t get created in a day or a week but, over time, permeates the space between the four walls of your room. Ultimately, it’s your choice as to what the climate looks and feels like.
Every bad thing that happens in your classroom is not an attack on your authority. Even though it might seem like it at times, your students are not actively plotting to overthrow your regime and institute anarchy within your domain. They’re simply being kids. When they mess up, they are showing you that they need help managing their emotions, their tongues, or their bodies. They need someone to show them, with love and positivity, a better way.
By maintaining a positive outlook on everything that happens, by not taking things personally but observing them from a detached perspective, you get to choose your response and its flavor. Your positive responses will begin to overpower any negativity that your students bring in with them. That’s your strength as a teacher. Do you want a more positive, trusting atmosphere?
It all starts with you.
What can you do tomorrow?
Practice. Take time each day to practice gratitude and thankfulness.
Write it down. If it would help, start a journal that you can use to gather your thoughts. Set aside a designated time each day to not only jot down what you’re thankful for but to review previous entries and keep thankfulness always before you.
What does this look like in the classroom?
Students and teacher build and sustain a supportive environment through:
· Positive expectations for students;
· Demonstrations and/or time set aside for gratitude and thankfulness; and
· Instruction delivered in a warm tone of voice.
No one is perfect. Everyone is doing the best they can with the best they have. Parents aren’t keeping their most promising children at home and sending the dysfunctional ones to school. Students aren’t saving their best behavior for home and running amok at school for sheer variety. What you see is what you get.
It’s easy to stay positive and non-judgmental when things are going right. But sometimes a student mouths off to you and finishes with, “And my momma said you can’t do nuthin’ to me cuz you ain’t the principal!” Those are the situations in which, as a teacher, it would be helpful to have already done some work on assigning intent to students’ actions.
Here’s the thing with intentions. The only intentions you can ever really know are your own, and even those are often hidden from you. So many adults believe that, unlike other mere mortals, they possess the magic ability to truly gauge the intentions behind students’ actions. Teachers are quick to lay malice and subversion at the feet of students because they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the student is inherently wicked and thus his actions must come from a place of evil intentions.
The only person that truly knows another’s intentions is God. And you’re not Him.
So often, things happen in the classroom that aren’t explicitly good or bad. They are somewhere in between, in that area of gray that is a lot larger than we’d ever like to admit. When deciding on whether the action is or is not worthy of punishment, then, most of us go for the intentions. Why did the child do that? What was he trying to accomplish? Is this the first step toward rebellion or simply a mistake?
When these conclusions are drawn from flimsy or non-existent data, we sit in judgment over the student, declaring our interpretation of the action as the correct version and decreeing punishment for not only what happened but also for what the child intended to happen. We assume to know the intentions behind the action and, more often than not, include those as a large part of our decision-making process.
But we can never know the true intentions of children. When hard pressed, it’s hard to even put our own aims into words. To believe that we are so thoroughly aware and perceptive that we can peer behind every action and accurately discern the objectives of others is at best problematic and at worst delusional. We simply can’t.
Yet intentions matter. Why not assume the best?
What can you do tomorrow?
Reflect. Recollect a recent experience and revisit it through a positive lens. How would that assumption have changed your interactions? Could the subsequent power struggle have been minimized or even avoided if you had approached it differently?
Try it again. Replay the situation in your mind while presuming positive intent and note how the outcome might have changed.
What does this look like in the classroom?
Students and teacher maintain positive communication, as evidenced by:
· Presuming positive intent regarding student misbehavior;
· Students being open to discussing misbehavior and rectifying it as needed; and
· Students seeking support and guidance from the teacher.
To read more posts in this series, click here.