Can classroom management be as simple as building meaningful, healthy relationships with our students? What if I told you classroom management is all about healthy relationships with students?
That last nerve. We all have it, and we all have that student who tries it. Or perhaps we have several students who try it, but either way, we have all seen that point in a day where we cannot stand another student with challenging behaviour or a bad attitude.
Now, given how patient teachers typically are (and we know how much we can take!), our response to this trying behaviour is less often to scream and swear, but more often it's resignation; where we stop caring all together. Where we say silently to ourselves "I'm done. This kid fails? Gets suspended? Gets arrested? Not. My. Problem."
You assume that because it's in your head, your kids don't see it.
Good poker face? Too bad, you're still wrong. They see it - but worse than that, they feel it.
More often then not the student trying your last nerve is the student who has been written off a thousand times before. They've created a self-fulfilling prophecy because it's safer to decide that people don't care than it is to trust that they will and be let down - again.
But this article isn't for them (I'll save that for my future post on resilience). This is a post for YOU.
Research shows that "Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult" (Walsh, 2015).
Every child who has "behavioural issues" or "conduct disorder"(and yes, the quotations are necessary, because let's face it, conduct and behaviour are social constructs and these are students who have been severely let down by social constructs!) needs more support and more patience than students who get those things in ample supply at home.
Now you may be thinking "but you said 'healthy adult,' not stable adult, and I have my own problems! How can I possibly show up for my students when I'm going through my own stuff?! Can't I just set expectations and enforce them, as needed?! Isn't that what stable means?!"
Sure, you can... But then you're not being their healthy adult. You can be stable, consistent, and clear with your expectations, but that's not all it takes. It takes an unwavering support of each student, no matter where they're at.
Being the healthy adult doesn't mean you don't have your own baggage! It simply means you don't let your baggage interfere with your students'! It means you let them fill their overhead carry-on with that suitcase you KNOW is not TSA carry-on approved, while you store yours in the check-baggage to pick up when you get home.
Being the healthy adult means that you can model socially expected behaviour, but also show students that they're safe to get it "wrong" sometimes.
Being the healthy adult means not locking your classroom door at 8:40 when class started at 8:30 because you know that Jimmy is consistently late and "he needs to learn his lesson." Instead, the healthy adult celebrates the student's arrival, regardless of how late they may be. Remember the saying "better late than never?" If you want to build safety in your class, it's true...
Being the healthy adult means not countering "misbehaviour" with "Well, they'll need to learn sometime! The real world will never tolerate this!"Instead, the healthy adult acknowledges that the perceived misbehaviour comes from somewhere (likely unrelated to you and your class), and you don't need to know where it comes from to respond with empathy.
Being the healthy adult just means giving your students unconditional positive regard, and allowing yourself to admit that, yes, it's hard. But no, you won't allow them to be proven right - not every adult will write them off.
Begin by setting reasonable and attainable expectations, but be flexible! Expectations should be for them, not for you, and the sooner you allow yourself to release the fear of students"walking all over you" you give space for students to exceed your expectations!
I promise you, being the healthy adult will create a healthy classroom, filled with healthier students! And that's when learning can actually begin!
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Walsh, B. (2015, March 23). The Science of Resilience: Why Some Children can Thrive Despite Adversity. Retrieved from: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/03/science-resilience