What to Do About Students Who Change Your Class Chemistry
Education Week writer Larry Ferlazzo reached out to me and three other Education & Mental Health professionals to help respond to this reader’s question:
One student can change the chemistry of whole class. How do you bring balance to the Force in your class?
Here’s my response:
A sad truism about classroom dynamics is that it is far easier for one negative student to bring down an entire group of peers than it is for one positive student to lift the class up. As a teacher, what can you do in your classroom when that ‘one bad apple’ threatens to spoil the whole bunch?
Prioritize Connections with Students
In this age of technology and testing, it is far too easy to regard students as items on a to-do list rather than as human beings who only succeed academically when they feel safe emotionally. Make time to genuinely connect with each student in your classroom:
- Greet them by name each day.
- Learn their strengths.
- Know their families.
- Ask about their feelings.
- Notice changes in their behavior.
Genuine connections are the essential prerequisite to creating a positive classroom culture that can withstand the force of changing social dynamics.
Role Model Kindness
Rodkin & Hodges (2003) cite evidence that when teachers are warm and caring to their students, the students, in turn, become less rejecting of their peers. Be the standard bearer of warmth and kindness in all of your interactions with young people. Smile often. Make abundant eye contact. Listen. Be there. Show that you care. This is a real “do as I do” opportunity where your actions are the model for how your students treat each other.
Intervene Quickly & Briefly
Many adults tell me that when they witness cruelty in their classrooms, they freeze up and don’t know what to do or say. I tell them that the most effective way to intervene is also the easiest (not to mention the most time-effective.) Use brief messages, such as:
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