“Laws control the lesser man…. Right conduct controls the greater one.” Mark Twain
We all like to be treated with respect. Everyone appreciates a lawful community, yet abhors receiving a speeding citation, or having to pass through airport security. There is dignity in being law-abiding, and (for most of us), there is shame in having broken a law. Certaintly, laws are essential to a well-run society, but are they sufficient?
Todd Whitaker explores the epic challenge of dealing with student behavior. He acknowledges that things go wrong in even the best classrooms staffed by the best teachers. I had my own epiphany when, as a young teacher, my principal sent me to observe several “master” teachers in our district. Over the year of these observations, it was evident that these teachers were fantastic, at the top of their game. But what was more evident, and certaintly far more helpful to me for years to come, is that all these phenominal teachers were dealing with the same student behaviors as I struggled with – they were just far more effective at addressing the behaviors.Whitaker opines that the great teacher’s goals are to prevent misbehavior, and, in the event that misbehavior inevitably occurs, keep it from happening again. The great teacher is very proactive and methodological in her approach to discipline, whereas the ineffective teacher is caught in a reactive loop, and burdened with the inefficient application of punishment.
How does the effective teacher maintain positive student relationships during conflict? This is crucial, as I found that the trust built between me and my students can easily be skuttled by the way I handle student conduct; even the biggest bully in the class becomes a victim, and the teacher the bully, if the issue is not handled with the child’s dignity reverently kept intact while the situation is being addressed.
If not, it becomes “me against them”, a culture with little trust, and the teacher is rendered profoundly less effective.
Student dignity, maintaining trust, proaction, as well as keeping the end in mind (extinguishing misbehavior) are the key elements of handling behavior problems in the classroom.
Returning to the previous entry’s theme of upholding high expectations versus policing rules, if I have high expectations for student behavior that are clearly communicated, and if I firmly address student shortcomings keeping their dignity fully intact, I am helping my students become the “greater one” that Mark Twain referred to in the quote above.