?Classroom Management 2.0: Preventing Power Struggles

?Many of us have been there. We give a direction, the student refuses, we go back and forth and all of a sudden emotions are high and we’re in a power struggle where neither wants to back down. We hold firm to preserve our authority in front of the class and the student holds firm in order to maintain some feeling of power or to save face. Often emotions start to run high and we create a very tense situation. Even if we ‘win’ the struggle, we lose since our relationship with that student is likely damaged, class time was probably wasted, and the rest of the class has a more negative impression of us. The best way out of a power struggle is to avoid it in the first place. Here’s how:
Shift your perspective:
Take responsibility. We can often place blame for a power struggle with the student, but we are the ones who are ultimately responsible for whether a situation escalates into a power struggle or worse. If we don’t engage in the power struggle, it goes away. Once we can look at these situations objectively and see that we really are in control of the situation, it becomes easier to implement preventative strategies versus getting angry and caught up in the struggle.
Try to empathize. It’s hard not to get upset or angry when a student reacts in an angry way, but try to remember that their negative behavior stems from them feeling powerless or upset and trying to communicate that. Especially if we are new to teaching and we teach middle or high school, we can easily become intimidated by defiant behavior and forget that they’re just children who need our help to learn how to communicate their frustration in a healthy way. Keeping this perspective can help us react more positively and serve as a model for them versus an opponent.
Employ calming tactics:
Take a moment. As soon as a student responds in a defiant way, we often have an emotional reaction and respond immediately. Recognize that you’re having an emotional reaction and allow yourself a moment to take a deep breath before responding so that you can address the student in a calm, neutral tone. Often your initial calm response can be all the prevention you need.
Change the emotional tone. People naturally follow the emotional cues of the person we’re engaging with, so if the student is upset, we naturally can start to get upset. On the flipside, though, if we are displaying positive, calm emotions, students will start to match those emotions and defuse the situation naturally.
Be a ‘broken record.’ When a student’s emotions are running high, we don’t want to participate in an argument by responding to everything the student says or spending time lecturing or discussing the situation. Once you’ve taken a moment to come up with a calm response, give that response and that response only. For example, let’s say your response is, ‘Sam, I need you to begin working on your assignment and I’ll come back in a moment to talk with you.’ If the student argues and says all sorts of things about how unfair you are and how much they hate your class, you don’t respond or answer any of it, you simply repeat your original response in a neutral tone or maybe a version of it, like, ‘I need you to begin working on your assignment.’
Stay silent & ignore what you can. Another option in addition to the ‘broken record’ is simply staying silent. If you’ve already given the student a calm response and direction of what they should be doing, you can simply remain silent when they offer arguments. Especially in the early stages of a situation, silence can quickly take the energy out of the situation. And as long as you’re not angrily staring them down, but calmly waiting for them to do what you asked, it can quickly become awkward for them to try and keep up their side of the argument and so they will often give a final ‘Man, I hate this class’ (which we’ll ignore) and then do what you asked.
And after you’ve successfully preventing the power struggle from happening, be sure to talk with that student individually later to follow-up on the situation. If they student does need to receive consequences for anything they said or did, later when things are calm is the best time for that. The primary goal for the individual conversation, though, should be to build the relationship, so also try to ask the student questions about what upset them and how you can help them in the future, as well as making sure they know you’re on their side and want to work with them. The stronger your individual relationship with that student, the less likely future power struggles will be.

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