OK, the first day of school is fast approaching for my locale, so here are some thoughts on how to flourish, even if you’ve already started the school year. Successful behavior management is the door to all those creative lessons and successful learning experiences. The key to that door is you: how you communicate heart and authority, how you form relationships, and how quickly you help students become a community.
This post focuses on communicating heart and authority.
I’m not trying to create a warm fuzzy moment, but you must have something inside that goes beyond thinking only about yourself. Yeah, yeah, none of us would go into teaching if we were only thinking about salaries. And I sincerely believe that 99.9% of teachers want the best for their kids. But does that trump your biases? Does that override your own need to be successful and admired? Each kid who comes through that door is a jewel, a treasure, and is placed in your hands for safe keeping. How will you handle those treasures? How valuable will that kid be who doesn’t look like you or act like you want? Students (and teachers) form impressions in the blink of an eye: “That teacher is scared.” “That teacher’s scared of black kids.” “That teacher scares me!” “That teacher doesn’t want to be here.” So examine your heart and lay down the wrong expectations. Let selfless love trump all.
At the risk of sounding schizophrenic, you must also have something inside you that communicates your authority. Teacher training institutions and researchers have wrestled with this almost intangible quality for ages. I assume most of us have a built-in authority meter. We can tell who expects to be followed, who expects attention, who expects obedience. I’m not suggesting you become a benevolent dictator, for you must also follow the lead of your kids. Yet you must communicate authority so that a community can flourish under your leadership. I believe the most effective classroom is a democracy with a strong leader. This means you must also lay down fear of failing, fear of experimenting, fear that the kids will become savages if you turn your back (maybe we should never have read Golding’s Lord of the Flies). Put simply, kids are trying to figure out who is in charge. When they know you are, they can relax and grow.
One more point, taught to me by my husband over 30 years ago: Never evaluate your school day based upon how students behaved. Instead, evaluate how you responded. You can only control your responses, not those of others.