In sports, analysts often describe successful players lacking the preferred physical attributes in a sport as having the “intangibles”. What a player may lack in the prototypical physical skill set is made up for by these intangibles. Boston Celtic great Larry Bird comes to mind who, in my opinion, possessed off-the-chart intangibles. So what are these intangibles? Words or phrases like heart, anticipation, instinct, a “nose for the ball”, or a high sport-specific I.Q. are used. So what do educators mean when we say that a teacher has it?
During a recent post-observation conference, I asked a teacher, whom I’ll call Noel, to what he attributed his classroom management skills to. Noel is not a loud out-there kind of teacher. He is calm and steady and chooses to engage students with a kind smile. But, if a little friskiness breaks out in class, a simple glance will quell the action. I’ve seen my share of teachers who resort to yelling and the use of vague threats to manage their classrooms. These bully tactics work in the short term but quickly become white noise to middle school kids.
As I awaited Noel’s response I could sense a little uncomfortableness in talking about himself. But…here is what he shared. My words won’t do justice to his oral response but I’m confident you’ll see what makes him a teacher with the “it”.
Nothing beats experience. As the cliche’ goes, having “been there and done that” is invaluable. Age (experience) can soften one’s resolve or increase one’s wisdom. For those who remain highly effective in the classroom, years spent in reflection and fine-tuning the art of teaching continually evolve and adapt. I firmly believe kids have not changed; rather society has changed. Kids have never been good at listening to adults but they’ve never failed to imitate them.
We all recognize the importance of establishing quality relationships with our students. Noel taps into the head and heart of each student by finding at least one piece of common ground they share. This might be something as simple as asking a student which Led Zeppelin song is his/her favorite or telling them a humorous story about an older sibling. Anything that connects him to his students is fair game. This hook becomes the tool by which Noel establishes a personal relationship with each student. I don’t know about you but do you find it harder to disappointment someone with whom you share a close bond?
“I don’t call them out in front of their peers.” One of the worst things an adult can do is to call out a child in front of their peers. We don’t like it when it happens to us so why should it be any different for kids? As adults we should know (Wisdom?) better and yet we’ve all done this. Intentional or not, it’s extremely destructive and erodes trust. An already disengaged student is looking for a reason to remove school from his/her quality world. We already fight a tough battle in keeping kids engaged and positive about school. Why shoot ourselves in the foot by demonstrating poor interpersonal skills? It’s simply counterproductive.
“Relationship building will forgive your lack of knowledge.” These were Noel’s final words as our conference ended and something that’s always resonated with me as a middle school teacher. Our kids won’t remember everything they were taught in middle school but they will remember YOU. Can effective classroom management really be this easy? It can be if you want it to be.