I struggle with this every, single year. The balance between being a taskmaster and building relationships with students. One way to think of classroom management, according to Lee Canter (Assertive Discipline) is that dealing with kids is like working with your bank account. Building relationships with kids can be seen as depositing money into your bank account. When you need to redirect a kid, or ask a kid to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, or if you need to have a negative interaction, you are making a withdrawal from your bank account. With most kids we can redirect and still have a positive balance, especially if the relationships are positive to begin with you will always have plenty in the bank to draw from if you ever need it. As long as there is a balance in your back account, the interaction with the student will work and remain a positive relationship. Funny thing (funny, no, that doesn’t really fit but I can’t think of a better way of starting this sentence) is that the ones that have the most money to draw from are the ones that you rarely need to make a withdrawal!
But what about those kids who need more redirection? You have to be careful because making a withdrawal when you have no money in your bank account leads to trouble. For these kids you need to make withdrawals more often and they have the least money in their accounts. The idea here is to build relationships with these kids too so that you have enough money to draw from when you need to redirect or ask them to do things they’d rather not do. The trick is knowing how much to deposit and whether or not it’s there when you need to withdraw it. Once you’re in a negative balance either the student will not comply with your requests or your relationship will be damaged. Making more deposits may become more difficult if you let your balance go into the negative too often.
I find my interactions with students to be positive for the most part. Sure there are times when I redirect if I feel kids are socializing too much or doing things that are not appropriate for a Science classroom full of young people. For the most part, those redirections work just fine. I have money in the accounts to draw from. With some students the redirection becomes a balancing act. How do I know when I’ve tried to withdraw too much? In other words, how much can I ask of a student, how much can I prod and ask for work or different, more appropriate behavior for our space and time before he or she has had enough? That is the balancing act that happens for teachers all the time. We ask a student to get back on task, to stop throwing the ball in class, to stop annoying her teammates, to clean up her mess, etc and if she doesn’t we might ask what’s wrong or why not or we might just ask her to change her behavior again. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve withdrawn just enough and the student changes her behavior and may even get back to work and learn something. Sometimes I will withdraw too much and the student shuts down or gets angry.
Right on the spot we try to deposit some funds into that bank account! How can I help? What can I do? What’s wrong? I try to see how I can help the student. Always the balancing act of how much can I ask of my students before I reach the limit and have withdrawn just enough. It’s much easier to build relationships, or make deposits. I listen as my students tell me about their day. I tell them about my day. We just chat sometimes and laugh together and genuinely enjoy each other. At that point I walk away and check in with other students. But eventually I have to come back and notice that no work is getting done or that some behavior really isn’t appropriate for our time and space. Then what? Do I withdraw what I just deposited?
So I wonder everyday, during every class, how much do I build relationships and how much do I keep my students on task? It’s a balancing act and sometimes I withdraw just the right amount, and some days I try to withdraw too much. Then I have to make sure to deposit some money before I make my next withdrawal.
How much do you build relationships versus keep kids on task? And do the new standards and high stakes tests make you feel guilty when you do spend time building relationships?