TECHNIQUE #60: Warm/Strict
Hot or Cold; warmer, warmer, freezing! Striving to seek the perfect pitch with interpersonal interactions with students is a challenging balance to strike. Some teachers want to be the funny, personable teacher that makes students laugh and everyone in the building gravitates towards. Others play the automaton role because running a tight ship is the way things “used to be” and the only way to maintain complete control over the classroom. I cringe at “transparent” teaching; my goal is not be friends with students; I find that truly inappropriate. But I also cringe at the teachers who publicly berate students with character assassination. The ‘Hands Off’ policy is quickly becoming the norm in many schools, and rightly so. If you want the students to keep their hands off each other, so should the teaching staff. Likewise, hugs and arms around the shoulder between teacher and student puts everyone in a precarious position and rarely has anything to do with academics. That is why everyone is at school, to educate and to learn. Warm/Strict asks the teacher to examine their tone and actions, and to be mindful of finding that balance between disciplinarian vs. the ‘Fun’ teacher.
Inevitably, I get stuck between a Warm and a Strict (policy) place when an endearing 11 yr. old girl has “I’m so happy to see you!” written all over her face and comes in for a hug!?! I do feel like a jerk, in a sense, rejecting the hug. Here’s the reaction I’ve developed with genuine, reciprocal joy on my face, but stepping back: “Oh my goodness. That is so sweet, (not you are so sweet), Give me a fist bump”. Conversely, when the student who is typically so well behaved and productive gets caught “pulling a fast one”, I have to resist the urge to exaggerate surprise and make a funny joke about it. This student, too, must examine the consequence, “pay the fine”.
Word choice, intonation, inflection, gesture, eye contact, all of these things can deliver a message of concern, understanding and care. Warm/Strict highlights a few helpful hints, while at the same time, conveying the underlying message; you are not in the classroom to make friends with young people who are not your peers; you have a civic and professional duty to foster healthy, confident learners.
The tenable concepts in Warm/Strict point out strategies to avoid resentment and confusion when the need to deliver a consequence arises. It is certainly recommended that you communicate concern and genuine care; it’s very OK to be funny and nurturing, but at the same time: stick to your guns!
- Explain to students why you’re doing what you’re doing: Describe that the consequence for off-task behavior is a means toward the student’s advancement academically. “Paul, we don’t throw paper at each other because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.” Describe the infraction, emphasize the detraction from academics, NOT the students’ shortcomings.
- Distinguish between people and behavior: Again, indicate the action, not the person. “Throwing paper is inconsiderate”, NOT “You’re being inconsiderate”. Reinforce that you believe that students are capable of on-task behavior.
- Demonstrate that consequences are temporary: This is the most salient point in Warm/Strict. For young people, I find it critical to point out the temporariness of what needs to happen next and that it is not a fixed state. Here’s a great line from the text¹: “After you take a time out/tab out, I can’t wait to have you come back and show us your best”. Your looking to shorten the length of the consequence as well, in order to avoid developing grudges. But that goes both ways; DO deliver the consequence so that you, as the teacher, do not develop a grudge as well. Smile and greet students matter of factly after they have served a consequence. Let them know that they are starting over with a clean slate. You make even integrate the phrase ‘Clean Slate’ with students, followed by a fist bump! Integrate the student as quickly as possible into the current activity.
Eye contact, crouching at eye-level with seated students is a mode of communication that I have deliberated utilized over the past months in the classroom as a substitute. As a new technique in my repertoire, I’ve found it incredibly useful and effective. I’m not talking down at students. Here are some character and trust phrases, rather sentiments, from Warm/Strict that teachers implicitly or subtly should be trying to communicate to students: “You can be hip and successful; you can have fun and work hard; you can be happy and say no to self-indulgence”. These, quite frankly, are mini-mantras that the adults could stand to process, too.