Last year, I had a tough 6th grade group at the end of the day. Out of a class of 32 students, I had 10 boys (TEN!) who consistently created issues for themselves and others; ADHD, ODD, IEP, 504, you name it - we had it in that class! After months of consistent, fair accountability, one by one I was able to win over these rebellious boys BECAUSE I fought to maintain a good attitude toward them NO MATTER WHAT THEY DID (and it wasn't easy...)

My attitude is invisible, but it colors every interaction I have. Nobody can see them, but my thoughts paint a peaceful classroom environment or a stormy one. My attitude is a very powerful thing; it IS the pillar of classroom management. Just like a tree trunk supports all the branches and leaves, so my attitude supports a positive, productive learning environment. Do I have the attitude of a strong leader? Am I consistently, firmly and kindly holding students accountable? Am I speaking positive words, seeking out good things about the kids? 

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That 6th grade group was a struggle every day, they tried to start fights with each other, they complained about every project, and several defied any and every little instruction I gave. However, the light eventually came on! 

They finally began to settle down and enjoy the class (and me) because I forced myself to believe in them, to see them for what they COULD BECOME. Because I was determined to enjoy that class, and EVERY kid in it, regardless, my group of 6th grade boys began responding positively to me, the previously hated teacher! Finally, after THREE MONTHS of struggling with disruptive and defiant behaviors, the students began smiling at me, joking with me, being respectful, and working hard. Win!

Atti-TOOT-ers, by Jo Noseda, (YouTube); this hilarious video is about how Mrs. Noseda deals with bad student attitudes in her elementary classroom:

Am I focusing on the good in in my students and colleagues? If my day is going poorly, am I choosing to laugh instead of to get annoyed? If the kids are acting up, am I consistently following through with my classroom management plan in a positive, affirming, caring way? Or, am I allowing my irritation to show? 

Failure is inevitable if I allow a negative, complaining attitude to take over. Success follows a cheerful attitude; a cheerful attitude follows positive thoughts. 

Our attitude as teachers sets the tone! 

Fact #1: There is an invisible power struggle in the classroom; students will seek to gain power over other students AND the teacher. Whether this is wrong or right, this "dominance" behavior happens quite often and it can be infuriating! I have learned the hard way not to show that I am upset when this happens. The times I gave in to negativity and became angry or annoyed at the kids, the atmosphere in the room became toxic. Positive words are the antidote to that poisonous air! Finding something, anything, good to focus my mind on is healing both to me and to the kids. 

Fact #2: We give away our power when we get upset. Classroom management expert Fred Jones is famous for saying, "Calm is strength; upset is weakness." Students think it is hilarious when teachers lose their cool, and some kids will purposefully push buttons just to see the show. They do not have much respect for teachers who are easily upset. But, they respect and admire a teacher who remains pleasant and calm even in crazy situations!

Fact #3: We can strengthen our students, and they us, when positive words are spoken. Even when disciplining, remember that we are helping students by holding them accountable. I say, "I care too much about you to allow you to behave this way..." Also, teach kids to speak positive, encouraging words to each other (and to teachers.) Have them practice encouraging each other and their artwork. If I hear kids complaining or being overly negative, I will nip it in the bud! My classroom is a "No Complaining Zone!"

This video by author and speaker Brooks Gibbs sums up the power struggle really well: How To Stop a Bully. It isn't necessarily about the student/teacher relationship, but this kind of dominance behavior happens in the classroom between students and teachers. Students do try to intimidate us; sometimes with blatantly disrespectful language and sometimes with a subtly defiant attitude. 

How can we deal with the power struggle? By remaining positive and calm, no matter what. Also, by refusing to argue with kids and by holding them accountable for their disrespectful behavior. "Having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone." Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion

So, what is the invisible pillar of great classroom management?

It is simply the teacher maintaining a pleasant, joyful, calm-assertive attitude. 

Principal Gerry Brooks (on dealing with negative people): Like White On Rice

Stay tuned for next week's article; "What My Dog Taught Me About Classroom Management; Having a Calm-Assertive Attitude for Leadership."

Further resources: 

Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion

"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Proverbs 23:7

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8
"So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now." I Thessalonians 5:11

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article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

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