“Don’t smile until after Christmas.”  Have you ever heard your colleagues say these words? At the age of twenty-one, I was unsure about classroom management, as this would be the first time I would have my own classroom of students.  When I heard these words, I was confused.  I thought our goal was to build relationships with our students.  Smiling and laughing is a huge part of who I am, so could I build a relationship without smiling.  What would I do?

I listened and did not smile until Christmas.  So, what happened?  Even though I worked hard, it was hard to connect with my students.  I felt like I was in control of the classroom, but I wondered if this was the right way.  Despite my thoughts, I continued to use this strategy early in my career.  Now reflecting back, I believe this choice had a negative effect on the success of my students.

So, recently I started thinking about our mindset as teachers.  Control of the classroom is perceived as a valuable teacher skill.  However, does control mean respect?  In particular, I have loose my cool when a student talked back during class.  I don’t think students could respect my anger, nor would I say my students could felt safe in a classroom where they couldn’t express themselves.  So, I have to change.  I decided I needed to share more about myself.  I needed to share my strengths and my challenges.  I needed to make a mindset shift and be more vulnerable.

As educators, we use the word mindset in many different forms, so in this blog I will use the following definition:

Mindset – a mental attitude that determines how a person response to situations

Key Shift:  Vulnerability

As a young teacher, it was a challenge for me to be vulnerable and I still struggle now.  Our challenge is knowing the line between revealing too much and sharing too little.  However, if we want to build relationships with students and effectively manage our classrooms, then we must be willing to share who we are and why we are teaching with our students.  Think about it, are you more willing to take advice from someone you know , or someone who is a unknown to you.  We listen more to people we know.  We also share more with people we know because we feel safe.

We all struggle with being vulnerable, but I have learned a few skills that help me with my fears.  For me, I learned to reveal who I am upfront and what I am about upfront. This way when problems occur, I can remind students where I stand, instead of trying to hide my needs. You may think you do this at the beginning of the school year, but most of us spend this time going over rules (syllabus) instead of stating personal principles.

Here is an example:  I use to say “Rule number one is respect, respect teacher, materials, each other and yourself.”  Now I might say, “I value each of you as individual, therefore if you have a concern with me or any other student, please address me one on one, before or after class.  This way, I can give you my full attention as we discuss the concern.”  In the first example, I was very vague and closed in my communication.  What does respect mean?  How would a student show a teacher respect?  However, the second communication was clear directions to what I care about (valuing students as individuals), and when, when, and how to address any concerns.  Clarity in who we are, and how we operate can be essential to vulnerability.  Through vulnerability you1 Mindset Shift to Effective Classroom Management build respectful and open environment for students to learn.

This is one component of vulnerability, however there are others that you might consider:

a) Being a curious more than certain

b) Talk about what students can do, more than what students can’t do

In conclusion, I think we all can have effective classroom management through vulnerability.  We all want our students to succeed academically and beyond.  So, for students to reach highest potential, they must feel safe and respected.  Strategies like refusing to smile before Christmas or stating a set of rules, my have some benefits, but ultimately can leave us without the connection needed to impact student learning.  So, let’s all take a deeper look at how we can be more vulnerable in our classrooms.  If we do, I believe we can have the classroom environment we have always desired, where learning, not control is at the center of the experience.

What shift do you believe supports effective classroom management?  Please share your comments below.  Looking forward to continuing the conversation.


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