Because a considerable portion of our job is to redirect counterproductive student behavior, should we immediately jump into action when we feel a “disturbance in the Force?” (And don’t you just love Star Wars?) Another common reaction to misbehavior is to ignore it, especially when educating boys, allowing students to fatigue themselves in vain efforts to gain attention. In truth, both approaches do often work. But what do we do with the very small percentage of people who don’t respond to these techniques? Do we endlessly repeat our actions hoping that someday the magic will occur?

Here is a little advice influenced by the books A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Hear Our Cry: Boys in Crisis, Teaching with Love and Logic, The Dance of Anger, Managing Anger, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. My own personal beliefs are also included.

If we allow behaviors to get on our nerves, no technique is likely to work. Our temperaments will more likely cause us to act immediately, time and time again, making us appear to be a “nag.” Ignoring behaviors will only cause our frustration to become bottled, and later it will surface in a tantrum-like manner if the students fail to exhaust themselves and continue to seek attention.

Here is a list of mindsets and thoughts that often allow me to remain objective. As I listen to or observe students, I process information with the following:

  • Oh my, I used to do that. Thank God I had people who loved me and stuck with me during the rough times. I need to do the same now. (Thanks, Mom, Dad, Father Bob, and Ana Maria.)
  • Does he even know what he looks like right now? He would more likely laugh or cry if he could see himself acting this way, and he would wish this moment could be erased from memory.
  • I used to look that way. (Very sad … smirk.)
  • Ten years from now we will laugh about this. Hmmm … maybe I should start now and speed up the process.
  • In the big picture of life, this is not cancer research or world hunger. It’s just part of growing up.
  • Progress, not perfection. (Repeat this one like a mantra.)
  • If it’s hysterical, it is historical. (When students react unreasonably to a stimulus, there is a history that is affecting their thinking. They more than likely need to explore this with a counselor.)
  • I cannot change anyone. They have to do the work. I can merely make suggestions and continue to observe for the next suggestion.
  • This child needs someone who holds him accountable while never giving up on him.
  • The first one who yells, loses—always.
  • If I am the one who is getting hot under the collar, I am more than likely not allowing him to do his own feeling work, and he will fight against me and try to change me instead of focusing on himself.
  • Silence is loud and can cause people to listen to their own thoughts.
  • No one can argue with you without your permission.

In every interaction, you are 50% of the conversation, and you have 100% responsibility for what you say and do. Also, you have no power over the other person’s 50% or 100% agenda items (except in middle school, where students believe they own people because they are looking so hard for acceptance). Any attempt to take control over someone else’s agenda items will more likely lead to corruption or heartache.

As we encounter students who need to be redirected, consider that change will occur with discomfort. Nagging will only serve to make both the sender and receiver defensive and unyielding. When educating boys, ignoring may not achieve desired results when coupled with minor or no consequences. Therefore, the child has little reason to change the behavior. This may take some time to figure out. If you feel you have become a nag, stop it. It is not working. If you feel you have ignored behaviors too long, stop it. It is not working.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Know what you are going to say before you say it. Sit with students and calmly tell them that a change needs to occur. Without sounding judgmental, be lovingly firm and clear about what specific behavior(s) need to change.
  • Tell them how you feel with statements such as, “When you do ____, I feel ____.” They will not be able to argue with how you feel.
  • Calmly tell them what you will do the next time they repeat the behavior(s). Do not say this in anger. Speaking without anger eliminates the argumentative element of the conversation.
  • If the student becomes excited, take this as a signal to stop talking now. Ask students if they can calm down in order to continue the conversation, or postpone the conversation until such time as they can. (Note: Postponing a conversation with an argumentative student can come across as sarcastic. State things like, “I am not angry, I just need to have a calm discussion for us to make any progress.”)
  • Be true to your word. Keep tabs on yourself to study whether your actions are overly harsh or too soft, and continue to work from there.