A high school principal recently asked me to stay after a seminar and meet with her school “Leadership Committee.” After about six minutes I got up to leave. “Wait, where are you going? We just started,” the Principal said to me. “I know, but unless and until there are students on the committee, what we come up with will at best be incomplete and frankly, will not work.”
It is rare that school committees which are charged with making decisions that affect kids rarely include them. A Principal I worked for used to say, “Brian, this is not your school. It belongs to the kids. Without them none of us would have jobs. Without you I would have 50 applications.” All school committees that directly impact student behavior should have meaningful student representation. When defining a school discipline policy, at least a few difficult students should be involved. Who better to help create the rules than those who chronically break them?
All humans want to feel like they have some influence and control in their lives. In fact, a lot of rigorous research confirms that feeling control – the feeling that you have the power to influence and shape even small aspects of your fate – can have an enormous impact on one’s well-being. School is often not set up for kids to give or share control. In most schools students are told what to do, when to do it, and how long they have to get it done. We tell them what they can wear, how to walk, when to talk, what to eat, how many questions are on the test, and what the homework will be. They are told the rules and what will happen if they are broken. In fact, in some schools everything down to the exact outfit students wear is controlled for them.
Finding ways to share control with kids can be an enormous benefit when working with challenging students. To begin thinking this way I recommend asking questions instead of giving orders. A woman at my seminar in Frederick, Maryland asked, “What do I do with the kids that just will not follow directions?” My response was, “Stop giving directions and start asking questions.” In fact, I challenge each of you to pick one day and from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep no matter what anyone says to you the entire day, respond with questions and see what happens.
Student: How many problems are going to be on the test?”
Teacher: Good question. How many do you guys think should be on it?
Student: This class is so boring. I hate it.
Teacher: Really? Ok. If there were two things I could do to make it better for you what would they be?
Student: Well what consequence will I get if I break that rule?
Teacher: Good question. What consequence will keep you from calling people names?
Thinking this way often gets students to make the very decision the teacher was going to make anyway. For much more on control, and other basic needs students have, check out our latest book, Power Struggles 2nd Edition, Successful Techniques for Educators.