It’s a common refrain.
“With a student like Erik, you have to pick your battles.”
“In my class this year, I’ve got to pick my battles.”
“The best advice I could offer would be to . . . pick your battles.”
The idea behind this popular strategy is that if you get involved in every misbehavior, then you’ll find yourself in an argument, a confrontation, or a battle of which you have little time for.
The thinking is that it isn’t worth the stress and trouble, that it may even cause behavior to get worse. Better to ignore the little things and respond only to serious or more disruptive infractions.
It’s often cited as a good strategy to use with certain students, particular classrooms, or even as a general rule of thumb with all students.
But here’s the thing, the straight scoop: Picking your battles will prevent you from ever turning around difficult students or creating the well-behaved classroom you really want.
It causes resentment.
Choosing to respond to misbehavior sometimes and not others breeds resentment—because it’s unfair and students know it. From their perspective it looks like you’re playing favorites. Why does he get away with talking during lessons and I don’t? It’s a question every student will ponder and grumble over.
You’ll lose trust.
Whenever you fail to follow your classroom management plan as promised, your integrity takes a hit. Trust is key to developing likability, respect, and an easy rapport with your students. Without it, you won’t have the influence you need to effectively manage your classroom.
When teachers speak of picking their battles, they’re referring to having a confrontation. In other words, they intend to lecture, scold, question, or otherwise persuade students into compliance. It’s often ugly, always personal, and catastrophic to the critical student-teacher relationship.
It encourages arguing.
Because it’s personal, few students will take your third degree without a response. It’s a battle, after all, and they’re going to fight back. This might include lying, talking back, offering excuses and denials, and a silent promise to misbehave again the first chance they get.
Note: Many difficult students have become so battle weary and sensitive that they’ll argue at even the slightest, gentlest correction.
It causes disrespect.
Teachers often “pick their battles” with students who are prone to disrespect. But inconsistency and confrontation are like adding fuel to the fire. Together, they all but cause disrespect by poking, prodding, and frustrating your most challenging students into angry and contemptuous behavior.
You’ll be tested.
As soon as your students see evidence of inconsistency, they’ll begin testing you at every turn. It is among the most predictable of student behaviors. Unfixed boundary lines lose their effectiveness, and with it, you lose your ability to fairly and without drama hold your students accountable.
It’s unnerving to students.
How does one go about picking battles? Is it based on the severity of the misbehavior, who is doing the misbehaving, the teacher’s mood at the time? The truth is, leaving classroom management so haphazardly defined causes tension and anxiety and creates a climate students don’t want to be part of.
Never A Need To Battle
With confrontation and inconsistency equal parts of the toxic brew, picking your battles is like shooting yourself in the foot and pulling the rug out from under yourself at the same time. It’s a circus gaffe that has somehow become common, even sage, advice.
To build and maintain your trust, rapport, and likability, to be respected and looked up to, to manage your classroom effectively and gracefully, you must never “pick your battles.” Or engage in battles whatsoever.
For there is no need, not with a well-taught classroom management plan to do the heavy lifting for you. Let it be your statement of accountability. Let it define and defend your boundary lines of behavior.
Let it free you from the arguments and confrontations, the wasted time and the stress of picking your battles. Let it safeguard your influence, protect your relationships, and restore peace and fairness to your classroom.
In other words, let it do its job.
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