We hear time and time again that we should avoid power struggles with students. This is excellent advice and something we should work to do. At times, however, it is hard to know how to avoid power struggles. One way to avoid such power struggles is to simply walk away.
Imagine a student that you’re having a hard time getting on task. You have asked her to pull out her math book and she won’t. In a very polite, pleasant voice (to show the student she hasn’t ruffled you) say, “Pull out your book and start working on problems one and two. I’ll be back soon to see how you’re coming along.” After saying this, walk away as if you have more important things to take care of.
When you walk away, you are showing the student that you trust her to manage herself. You gave the instructions and you trust them to follow through with it. Of course you must follow through with what you said and return a minute or two later to see how the student is doing. When approaching the student be sure to recognize and share appreciation for something she is doing that complies with your expectations. The first thing out of your mouth should positively reinforce the student.
Walking away also helps you, as the teacher, to remain calm and in control of your own emotions. If you stand over the student and insist that she pulls out her math book, you are embarking on a power struggle. The minute the teacher has encountered a power struggle is the minute the teacher has lost control.
This works wonders for other situations too. Save your students and yourself from unnecessary heightened emotions by showing the students you trust them to get on task by walking away, turning to help another student, or looking for other students who are on task to recognize and praise.