As a teacher, you have to perform many roles: instructor, coach, role model, advisor, and ally. None of these roles are effective if you aren’t also the peacekeeper.
Keeping the peace in your classroom creates a climate that promotes risk-taking and ensures that everyone is able to perform at his/her highest ability. But in a given day, there are many obstacles which may prevent your classroom from being peaceful.
Classroom confusion, student bullying, and defiance of authority can all threaten the classroom climate. Each of these threats has one common element, negative energy. Your role is to thwart the energy of these attacks into meaningful dialog which promotes a calm environment. By taking these easy steps, you can diffuse the situation.
Step One: Recognize the threat.
One year I wanted to show my students a Hollywood film which tied into our curriculum. The film was to be shown after school, as an extension of our classroom time and attendance was optional. I believed the film was properly rated for my students.
The next day, I was called into the principal’s office and told that a parent had complained that the movie was inappropriate because of the rating. I apologized and set about informing my students that I had made a mistake and the movie would not be offered as planned, but I encouraged students to discuss viewing the movie with their parents and perhaps viewing it at home.
One boy said very loudly, “You lied to us.”
I could have ignored his statement and moved on without addressing his accusation. After all, a classroom is always very busy with too much to accomplish. But this was a threat to the classroom climate. If a student believed I was a liar that would undermine my authority.
It is important to recognize the threat to your classroom. Often a child’s careless comments or actions could be ignored more easily than addressed. But these small threats can escalate to larger threats if unaddressed.
Step Two: Address the threat
I made eye contact with the student and said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” I wanted to be sure that I had heard correctly. More often than not, when a student is confronted, she will mumble that it was nothing. If this is case, the threat has been addressed and the classroom activities can move on.
My student looked me right in the eye and said, “You lied to us.”
The entire class was quiet.
“No, I made a mistake. There is a difference.” I explained to the student how I made a mistake. I then asked for confirmation of his understanding of my mistake and how I would never knowingly lie to my students. He conceded.
Generally, when approached with the honest facts, students will concede their position, and allow the threat to the classroom climate to disappear. Occasionally, a student will further pressure the situation.
Step Three: Diffuse the Situation
Occasionally a student will continue to banter with you, wanting to access your classroom control through threatening your position as the educational leader. It is important to avoid this conflict because no one wins.
Seating arrangements in my class are made according to where students will be most successful. Some students, who are sitting where they’d rather not, love to challenge where I’ve sat them, either by asking me everyday if they can move, or by moving without permission. In the first case, I refuse to engage in the debate about whether the student’s assigned seat is fair. I simple respond with, “You know why you are sitting there and you know what to do to get your seat moved.” This takes the wind out of any confrontation.
If a child is sitting in the wrong seat, I simple ask her to move to her assigned seat and inform her that she has been marked tardy. Once again, there is no argument because the procedures, which are public knowledge, solve any disagreement.
To diffuse a situation where a student continues to argue with you, simply ask the student to step outside, repeating those directions until they are followed. There is no argument to be had if one of the participants is unwilling to engage in it. Once the student is outside, then you can decide your course of action: a gentle speaking to, a time-out to another class, or a referral. In any case, the rest of the students can trust that you will act as the peacekeeper in class, ensuring their safety, their calm learning environment and their ability to take risks without fear.
A teacher’s job is a difficult one. Protecting your classroom from threats by diffusing difficult situations will make your classroom peaceful, your students productive and your perspective positive in your other roles as instructor, coach, role model, advisor, and ally.
Diane Mierzwik has been a teacher for over eighteen years. She is the author of "Quick and Easy Ways To Connect With Students and Their Parents," Classroom Record Keeping Made Simple" and "Wishes in The Field.