• Aaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #5: Protection


This is post #5 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams.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.


Trust deactivates the amygdala.


For students to inhibit negative behaviors, one necessary environmental factor is a sense of trust that the teacher will protect the student from emotional injury and psychological pain (Willans & Williams, 2018). Walking down a lonely path, fearful of bears jumping out of the woods, would make anyone anxious. If, however, you were driving a tank down the path, then any bears that stumbled into your way would be annoying but not dangerous.


More than being a friend or a buddy, teachers first and foremost must be protectors. We do not know all of the unseen bonds of stress that children bring with them every day nor can we eliminate all of them. What we can do, though, is make our classrooms a fortress of protection. Students can be primed not for fear but for relief, safety, and openness if they know that they will be protected from shame when they cross your threshold.


Protection is not control. It is not dominance. If teachers try to eliminate threats by exerting ultimate authority over students, theoretically keeping the fragile ones safe from the hooligans, compassion is thrown out the window. Effective relationships, between the teacher and students and between the students themselves, thrive on trust. They wither in the face of power imbalances.


When students trust their teachers, they feel free to take off the armor they carry around to protect them from wounds. Protection offers them the possibility of being seen, being known, warts and all, and still being accepted. When trusting relationships put this option on the table, students are now, finally, in a position to learn.


Because learning can actually be quite dangerous.


What can you do tomorrow?

Visualize. Take a mental field trip into your classroom through the eyes of one of your students with behavior challenges. Are there dangers on the path? What trauma does he bring in with him? What’s his morning like before he shows up?


Be proactive. As you consider a typical day from his point of view, think about how you might reduce his anxiety and banish the dangers.


What does this look like in the classroom?

The teacher provides emotional and psychological protection by:


· Anticipating potential problems and planning for them accordingly;


· Providing comfort and assistance to students; and


· Showing appropriate affection toward students.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of the behavioral problems in your classroom. Keeping your eyes on the big picture might paralyze you into inaction. Instead, begin by taking baby steps toward improving your classroom environment. To begin with, utilize the action steps I provide throughout the book to incrementally build a safe and supportive culture.


Whichever goals you set, focus on the first step rather than the end result in the distant horizon. As long as your initial target is worthy and your plan of execution is aligned, you can keep your focus on the next action rather than on the distance still ahead of you. Each step you take builds your confidence in yourself. You begin to see yourself as reliable and trustworthy, able to make and keep promises.


Your students will see it too and also see you as someone that can be trusted. This is the foundation for a feeling of protection.


Meeting the needs of students reduces their misbehavior (Shapiro & White, 2014). All behavior is communication, in one form or another. Many students, by their acts of anarchy, are shouting at the top of their lungs, metaphorically speaking, that they need something.


They might not know what it is, and you probably don’t either, but they definitely need something. They’ll keep acting out until their needs are met.


In the presence of trust, however, having unmet needs becomes less scary. When students are in a protective environment, they know deep down that they will be taken care of. Young infants have one form of communication to share their needs and they use it expertly.

Mothers can often distinguish the needs of their babies simply by the types of cries they use. There are different wails for hunger, sleepiness, and even needing their diaper changed.


In the same way, children have a sure-fire way to communicate their needs, and that’s through behavior. Obviously, it would be better for everyone involved if they used words, either spoken or written, but sometimes children aren’t even consciously aware of their needs. Their random acts of violence and destruction might be their only viable form of communication.


What can you do tomorrow?


Start small. Find an area in which you’ve struggled in the past to keep commitments. Scale down next steps until they are bite-sized and take them one piece at a time.


Be accountable. To make it more actionable, communicate these steps to someone else who can serve as an accountability partner. Be sure to give yourself grace when the inevitable happens and you miss a commitment.


What does this look like in the classroom?

The teacher provides secure attachment for students by:


· Being emotionally available for them;


· Attuning to their emotional states; and


· Building trust through fulfilling commitments.


To read more posts in this series, click here.

References

Shapiro, S. L., & White, C. (2014). Mindful discipline: A loving approach to setting limits and raising an emotionally intelligent child. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.


Willans, A., & Williams, C. L. (2018). Freedom to learn: Creating a classroom where every child thrives. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

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