I stunk it UP my first year of teaching! I mean that I was so bad that there was talk of not having me back for a second year. I made many mistakes that first year, but let’s start with the biggest mistake I made–getting into power struggles with students.
When I started teaching I thought things could go one of two ways in my classroom–MY way or the students’ way. I remember telling students to do something like their work, apologize, etc. and they wouldn’t do it. Wait. What?!? Did you miss the part that I am your teacher?
I would dig myself into a deeper hole by continuing down the line of demanding that they do things that they were not going to do. I found myself in a hot mess as I tried to figure out how to get out of the situation without giving up the little control of the classroom I had left. I couldn’t just let this student ignore my directions. AAAGGGG! What could I do?
Over time I learned a few tricks to avoid power struggles. The most important thing I learned is that it does not have to be my way OR the students’ way, it should be OUR way. The students’ needs for power, freedom, fun and belonging must be met within the functions of the classroom or they will work against me to meet them. Either way, they will meet their needs. I just needed to decide if it was going to be in defiance of what I asked them to do, or if I was going to ask them to do things that would help them meet their needs while they learn.
Here is a short list of things to include in your classroom to avoid power struggles and to make it a need-satisfying place for learning. I made it into a cute acronym: CRAFT.
- C: Choice must be incorporated throughout the day. It can be small choices, like where to sit during independent practice, or it can be a big choices like researching a topic they are passionate about. Choice is power and freedom, it is a double whammy of need-satisfaction in the classroom.
- R: Relationships need to be positive and strong, and students need to understand how relationships work. When I was teaching my students about relationships, I liked to describe them as checking accounts. All the positives you put in to a relationship are deposits, and any negatives like excluding someone or teasing are withdrawals. You never want your account to go bankrupt, so we make sure we make many many more deposits than withdrawals.
- A: Ask, don’t tell. Students are smart and know so much more than we think they know. When there is a problem, simply saying to a student, “What do you think should happen next?” can empower them and give us insight into their thinking. Other questions you could ask are, “If you were the teacher in this situation, what would you do?” or “How do you think we could resolve this situation?”
- F: We always need to remember to have FUN! Not just teacher-prompted fun, but student-prompted fun too. I will never forget a student from my first and second year of teaching named Ryan. He taught me more about classroom management than four years of college did. We had lots of power struggles my first year of teaching, but I got to teach him a second year and guess what? No struggles. I was a quick learner! One thing we did to help him have a great year was to give him a stage for his funny antics. He had the best grandma dance ever, so we started having “Disco Lunches”. We would turn on music and allow students to come to a performance area to dance for their classmates. It was a blast, and it was just what Ryan and probably many other students needed at that time of day.
- T: Turn it around! I learned how to back that thing up and work my way out of a power struggle. I get to practice this as a principal too. If I have asked a student to do something and he/she will not do it, I can simply say something like, “I see that you are not ready to work this out. I will check back with you in…”.
There are many other tips and tricks to use to help classrooms and schools be need-satisfying places, and ways to avoid or work your way out of power struggles. CRAFT works for me…what tips do you have?
Please note: This blog post is based upon my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser. If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.