More times than not, we are very reactive to our students’ behavior. When it comes to confrontation, however, we have to be very careful about how, when, and where we respond. Behavior, depending on the severity, often does need to be confronted, but there are some guidelines to consider before doing so.
- Confrontation should rarely—if ever—be handled publically.
You know your students. There are going to be some kids that you can address from the front of the room without missing a beat. “Hey, get back to your seat, please.”
Others, however, can feel called out; this is especially true if it is happening frequently. You have now created a situation where, even if he doesn’t mind complying, he feels that he has to save face in front of his peers. This can cause an instant power struggle, and one that often lasts far beyond that single moment.
- Our cool must be kept.
We are the adults in these situations. One of our responsibilities is to model for our kids how to appropriately handle conflict. We cannot do this if we are reacting explosively or emotionally every time we are in conflict with them. Keep your voice calm and measured. Don’t confront the student while you’re still upset. Consider what you are going to say ahead of time.
Most of all, don’t take it personally. This is perhaps the most common problem I come across with adults. I guarantee you that 95% of the time, behavior is not a personal attack on you. Sure, their anger or behavior may be directed toward you, but you are not what it is about. Take a deep breath, and remember that it’s not personal.
- They deserve to know what we are confronting them about.
Our students (believe it or not) are not always pushing our buttons on purpose. I have been very upset with students, only to find out that they legitimately had no idea what I was upset about, and were horrified that they had been the cause of my distress. They don’t come into your classroom knowing that you can’t stand fidgeting. They don’t have any idea that you’re sensitive to not being responded to. Be clear with kids. Discuss exactly what you are confronting them about. Address how it impacted you, and/or others. Express your feelings (calmly) so they can understand their influence. But above all, be clear and open.
What happens if we don’t follow these guidelines? Well, let’s think about it like this.
You’re in a faculty meeting. Your spouse texts you about a family member who’s been sick all day, so you check your phone. Suddenly your principal’s voice rises. “I have asked all of you repeatedly to put your phones away. I don’t understand why this is so hard! *Your name here*, what is so important that you can’t be respectful and stay focused for fifteen minutes?”
How are you going to feel? Not great. Maybe embarrassed. Maybe angry. But now all eyes are on you.
How often do we do this to our students? Handling confrontation this way may work in the moment, but it has many side effects.
- It can make the student feel singled out. She may not know what she was doing wrong, may not think she was the only person to blame.
- It can cause the student to feel that you don’t like her. Especially if this is a frequent occurrence, or if it happens with this student notably more than with others. We have already discussed some of the implications of students thinking you don’t like them.
- It can build resentment. The student’s interactions with you may become increasingly negative.
- The relationship can start to deteriorate. Even on “good” days, she may not respond to anything you try. It can also affect the relationships with peers; if the behavior is frequent, her classmates are going to begin responding exactly how you do, further isolating her.
- It can even encourage the student to start finding ways to retaliate. She may continue the behavior out of spite, or find new ones to get back at you during class time.
A good way to prevent these issues, in addition to the guidelines provided above, is to make sure your ratio of positive to corrective interactions is high enough. Ensuring that you have at least 3 to 5 positive interactions with a student for every 1 corrective interaction you have can take some of the personal sting out of the correction itself. It also lets the student know that you’re not just trying to pick on her, and that you see her more than just when she’s acting out.
Your corrective interactions should also be brief. In addition to being calm, remember not to linger; your 10 minute lecture on why the student shouldn’t be talking is more disruptive to your lesson than the talking itself. A quick redirection, and then move on, mentally as well as physically. Walk by, “I need you on page 34 reading along,” and then keep walking. A drive-by redirection, if you will. This makes sure your time isn’t wasted, and lets the student know that it’s not a big deal, and that they don’t need to make it a big deal.
Remember, we are teaching them, through our actions, how to handle conflict. Be a good model.
How have you seen confrontation handled in your school? Do you have ideas or strategies you’ve found successful? Please share them in the comments!