Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't get crushed in the iron fist

We had a faculty meeting yesterday about using observation of kids to help us teach more effectively. The presenter had a lot of good ideas and sample materials. One of her introductory exercises, a sort of attention grabber, was to have the teachers list the kids in their class, not alphabetically or by gender or any other way except as they came to our minds singly. Everyone forgot about at least one of their own students. It was an interesting and informative experiment, and offered some food for thought about who was first in our minds, and why, and who went unnoticed, and why.

One thing she suggested was to step back and simply observe altercations, as long as they were safe, and to quash that teacher's impulse to solve problems for the kids. It can be quite enlightening to see how the kids work it out when they have to, and gives the teacher a better idea of what the power structure is like in the room.

Well, so this morning the boys were flailing around with the plastic animals, making them all charge and hit each other, and I was on the verge of saying, "Quit fighting with the animals," as I have so often before, but this time I bit my tongue and watched. After assessing the chaos, I stepped in, but didn't address anyone's behavior. I just said, "Shouldn't the lion be chasing the kangaroo, instead of the other way around? He's a carnivore, while the kangaroo is an herbivore."

Well, that set off a flurry of boys examining the animals and assessing them. Is a leopard a predator? How can we tell? Isn't an elephant a predator --- if not, what are those long fangs for? Can't a rhino fight off a tiger? Yes, the boys were still having the animals fight, but now it was a richer, more controlled fight. It was a great moment. I really like it when staff development is actually useful like that.

Another thing she reminded us was that classroom management is not about control. It's futile to try to "control" children --- that may work in the immediate term, but it's not teaching and it's not efficacious. What teachers should strive to do is give students strategies to guide their own behavior. You have to understand how they act. And the best way to do that is to step back, refrain from jumping in, and just observe them. And record them.

And lo and behold, this evening I came home and read in the fantastic book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind:
"Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a wide, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy."
Man, that's Synchronicity, man.


daveawayfromhome said...

My wife needs that book.

um, because she's a teacher, yeah.

Not because she's a control freak, oh no, not that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! I like that theory. "Control" with children is a big issue in my crazy household!