As Keith Johnstone suggests, in his book 'Impro', the lesson for teachers is that you can cope far more easily with classroom situations if you are able to proactively raise and lower your status as appropriate, rather than allowing your pupils to simply lower your status as you react to their misbehavior. Many of the assertiveness rules will apply, such as protecting your rights, saying 'no' and coping will with criticism. Here are a few common classroom situations that you will no doubt experience.
"Sir/Miss, he took my pen!"
You may well hear variations on this theme countless times in your career. The less you hear it, the higher your status is in the eyes of your pupils. As a beginner, it is vital to think of all communication of this nature as if you were an actor picking up a script: analyze the text but pay more attention to the subtext.
If you are doing well in terms of your attempts to raise your status, the child in question will have raised their hand to ask permission to speak. More often than not they will have shouted out and have stopped the flow of the lesson. In the beginning it is advisable to suspect that this student is simply trying to lower you by calling out and stopping you from teaching.
Deal with the interruption (the subtext) rather than allow yourself to be diverted by the perceived problem (the text). Whilst there are many possible responses to this, I will offer a straight, assertive one, with 'stage directions' and subtext in italics:
(stopping and remaining very still - playing high)
'You are interrupting my lesson'
(protecting my right to speak uninterrupted)
'Do not waste my time'
(I am not going to be drawn into petty disagreements. Attempting to lower my status by interrupting me is not a good idea. Hold eye contact and remain still then look away and continue with your sentence, tactically ignoring the problem.)
One of two things will happen. Either the pupil will accept the subtext of your comment; that they waste your time at their peril and their pen will magically re-appear as the person who took it also buys into your status raising or they will continue to lower your status by insisting on the validity of the text of their interruption and continue talking about the pen
(I did not accept your first attempt at raising your status, I'm up for a battle. I am higher status than you!)
This may well be a simple case of using the 'broken record' technique in order to break some resistance and repeating:
'Do not waste my time'
(All that interests me is my right to teach uninterrupted. You will not lower me!)
Or you may decide to reassert your status by using your right to move or separate pupils. Often giving a warning, which implies a choice of behavior works best rather than hasty action:
'Do I need to move you/you two?'
(you try to lower my status at your peril. These will be the consequences if you continue to interrupt me; you choose)
This will most often result in the pupil deciding not to move and their pen returning. Remember to look away and continue teaching immediately, allowing enough lag time for the pen to re-appear
(I am confident that my instructions will be followed)
rather than standing waiting for it to re-appear
(I am lowering my status by being fooled into buying into the text of this Drama)
The above advice is multi-purpose and can be applied to a whole host of student interruptions.
Classroom noise/Getting them to listen
This is a major issue for teachers. Classroom noise is totally dependent on the way in which your classes view both you and your lessons and it has a number of meanings. In essence, you should decide on an appropriate level of noise at various times in your class and be explicit about what is and is not acceptable.In terms of scripts, the subtext to your class is that you control every aspect of their behavior in the room.
'I've made my expectations very clear. When I am talking. You aren't.'
(My expectations are the most important here. When I say something happens, it happens.)
(Wait for silence with total stillness, perhaps a look at those still talking)
(The fact that I am waiting means that I expect this to happen and will not accept anything else. Lets assume a pupil is still talking)
'Right. You; get out and I will come and talk to you in a minute/move your things and sit here.'
(I will enforce my expectations. There are consequences to not obeying my instructions. I will back up what I say and claim my right to move you to where I want you.)
It is also a good idea to insist on silence when either yourself or another pupil is speaking to the class and to make talking over others a punishable offense:
'When I am speaking; you are silent. If you have put up your hand and I've asked you to speak, everyone else is silent'
('I am important enough for you to listen to and I can bestow my status onto others in the room')
I will often 'allow' pupils to talk to their neighbours at points in the lesson:
'Now, whilst you are doing this activity, I am happy for you to chat quietly to the person next to you but NOT across the room'
(you were likely to talk anyway. By 'allowing' you to do it, I keep my status high and still manage to impose restrictions)
When transitioning, it is a good idea to create a listening routine:
'Right, pens, down and look this way in 3, 2, 1. Looking up. Listening to me.'
(I am totally in control of when you write and when you listen and I am competent enough to manage your learning transitions well)
Sometimes you will meet a class who do not conform to your expectations at all. This is often because they are unsure of your boundaries (what you will and will not allow them to do)and a class in search of boundaries will go looking for them. As such you have to establish your authority. A good indication of this would be a class who seem to be ignoring your presence or any your requests for quiet. In the section on Rapport we will discuss the idea of 'pacing' and 'leading' in detail, but for now it is enough to understand that you have to be able to match the level of noise that your class is making and 'top' it with an ability to shout but for a very short burst. I compare this to the (rather dramatic) image of showing someone a weapon but not using it. The message is:
('I can shout loudly and behave aggressively if I need to. However, I choose not to on a regular basis. However, continue with this level of noise and I will do this again')
The vital distinction is that as soon as you shout once, you must then stop and wait for silence. In exceptional circumstances you can shout again, but only momentarily. The point is to lead them to place you want them to be, which is calm, by modeling it yourself. Continuing to shout merely reinforces the idea in the minds of your students that their behavior has made you emotional and has thereby lowered your status. A single shout at an unruly group, which then moves swiftly downward in volume demonstrates that you are the master of your emotions and that you can match or pace their level of noise, top it but then lead them to the state of calm listening that you want them to reach. Keeping your head still while you do this will reinforce your status.
In the above example, my verbal weapon of choice would be a very loud
said angrily but totally still; followed by a pause and then a phrase said forcefully but with slightly lower volume;
'You do not make that level of noise in this class'
or something similar. The key here is that once you have proved you can not only pace (match) them for volume, you can top them, then you need to lead them down to silence. A particularly useful trick is to practice the line above with as much menace as you can muster (Think Al Pacino in the Godfather!)
One caveat is that you may well need to practice your initial 'Oi!' (crazy as this seems) so that you sound more gangster than Disney Character. For tips on breathing see the 'Training Videos' section for advice on diaphragmatic breathing for a deeper, more resonant vocal tone.
I have collected a variety of 'weapons' over the years. Thesilent but loud finger click and point at an individual is very effective when dealing with one or two students who are out of sync with the rest of the group and misbehaving.
'Don't even think about it'
is a good one to use when you spot someone about to misbehave.
'End of conversation'
followed by a turn away, is one of my personal favourites as an alternative to the broken record technique. All of these must be accompanied by total stillness.
Discuss weapons of choice with colleagues and observe their effectiveness or otherwise. Have fun with it!
Here are a few things which you will see happen in schools every day. Once you begin to see the world through the prism of status and its secret meanings, you'll also begin to see how many teachers shoot themselves in the foot without realizing it on a regular basis. A simple understanding of the distinction between the text and subtext of all communication would make life a lot simpler.
Presentation: Sloppy appearance
(I don't pay attention to details. How you see me is up to you. I'll let stuff go)
Organisation: Poor planning
(I may be asking you to be disciplined but don't expect me to lead by example),
Teaching Style: Repetitive/boring work
(I'm not interested in you, how you learn best, how motivated you are or what you like doing. I'm not that good at teaching)
Over use a weapon: Shout too much
(You have effected me emotionally to the extent that I have lost control of my emotions. Go ahead and have fun lowering my status further),
Fairness: You are all coming back for detention
(I have lost the ability to change your behavior. I blame you not myself. I don't care if I alienate those who are behaving well)
Consequences: Too many warnings/Don't follow through
(I don't believe I can control you. I'm just going through the motions. Abuse me)
Complain: You always...../You never..../Why can't you.....?
(Whatever I'm doing isn't working. I don't have the skill or flexibility to change my approach so I'm blaming you)
Teacher persona: Play only low status
(I don't know how to raise my status. If I'm nice to you, hopefully you'll like me and won't abuse me. I am a passive victim.)
Teacher Persona: Play only high status
(I don't know how to lower my status. I don't care about or like you. I'm not here to be your friend. I'm here to scare you)
In terms of the final two items on the list, my point is simply that flexibility in the status position that you take from moment to moment, is the key to effective behavior management. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with this, nor would I expect them to. Teaching does attract a minority of compulsive high status players, who have an emotional/psychological attachment to playing high status at all times, often with staff as well as pupils. I have no quarrel with such teachers because they often do excellent work in supporting the general standards of discipline in a school as they are often feared by most pupils and therefore can be a useful point of last resort for other colleagues.
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To go back to the theory of Status, click here
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