Are You Using This Power Word?

Smart Classroom Management: Are You Using This Power Word?A couple of years ago, I went back to my college alma mater for homecoming weekend.

I met up with a few buddies on Thursday evening, and we spent the next day touring our old haunts.

It was a great time reliving the past and needling each other like it was yesterday.

On Saturday, we decided to go to the football game. The team had enjoyed some recent success and we wanted to be part of it.

After enjoying an alumni breakfast held across the street from stadium, we walked with a throng of people to the front entrance of the massive horseshoe-shaped structure.

After waiting for a few minutes in a line of fans decked head-to-toe in team regalia, we handed our tickets to the ticket-taker.

I was eating a banana as I began to push through the turnstile, when a man in a red windbreaker, presumably security, stopped me and said, “Sir, you can’t bring that banana into the stadium.”

I shrugged my shoulders, backed up to finish off the banana, and then threw the peel into the trash bin a few feet away. This took all of about 10 seconds. I was excited about the game and my friends were waiting.

But as I jogged into the concourse, curiosity got the better of me. I turned and headed back toward the security guard. When I got close enough to him I said, “Excuse me. Why aren’t bananas allowed in the stadium?”

Without even glancing in my direction and with an air of authority, he decreed, “It’s our policy.”

Not satisfied with the answer, I smiled and said, “But why is it a policy? Is it a security concern? Are you afraid someone is going to slip on the peel?”

The last question broke his I’m-security-don’t-mess-with-me persona. He looked over at me and let out a small but good-natured chuckle. I knew he was busy, so I thanked him and headed for my seats. Kick-off was approaching.

The incident was brief and inconsequential. It had no meaning in my life whatsoever. That I wasn’t allowed to bring a banana into a football game didn’t bother me in the least.

However, clearly something on some level of consciousness bugged me enough to make me go back and speak to that security guard. But what was it?

As it turns out, that something has strong implications when it comes to classroom management and can possibly be the difference between success and failure with your students.

In his two excellent books, The Psychology of Influence and Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini describes several experiments that prove overwhelmingly that when we ask someone to do something—or not to do something—the response will be much more favorable if we provide a compelling reason.

Therefore, when it comes to classroom management, the one word you should always keep in mind is because. So every time you enforce a classroom rule with a consequence, to be most effective, go through the same three steps:

1. Tell them what the consequence is.

“David, you have a warning because…”

2. Tell them what rule they broke.

“…you broke rule number two: Raise your hand and wait to be called upon before speaking.”

3. Give a compelling reason for the rule.

“We have that rule because calling out is unfair to the rest of the students, it wastes time, and it interferes with everyone’s right to learn.”

The difference between the experiments cited by Dr. Cialdini and the use of because for classroom management purposes is that we aren’t asking our students to do something; we are telling them. But the positive results are the same.

If your students understand why a rule is important to the success of everyone involved, they are much more likely to buy in to your program and be compliant to that rule.

Therefore, it’s critically important when explaining your classroom management plan that you provide reasons that make sense to your students.

It’s interesting to note, however, that experimenters discovered that even when the reasons offered were poor—to the point of absurdity—most subjects were still agreeable to the request. Meaning that the most important aspect to providing reasons for your students is the word because.

Offering reasons to your students is also less confrontational. Creating friction between you and your students when giving consequences is never a good thing, but you’ll do just that if you send them to time-out without explanation.

If your students go to time-out and are angry with you or are complaining about your decision, then you’re doing something wrong. Often, it’s because you’re not using the word because and then following with cogent reasons.

Classroom management doesn’t have to be demanding or dictatorial to be effective—and it shouldn’t be—but it does need to be smart.

Children respond to certain classroom management techniques and strategies in predictable ways. Keep reading this blog, and when your classroom is transformed, I want to hear from you.

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