Why Detachment Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

Smart Classroom Management: Why Detachment Is A Powerful Classroom Management StrategyTeachers who struggle with classroom management—and teaching in general—tend to be overly invested in the job.

They view the profession as who they are rather than what they do.

They live and die with every success or failure.

They’ve bought into the lie—hook, line, and sinker—that good teachers give more, do more, help more, and talk more than less committed colleagues.

This approach inevitably draws them into a micro-level relationship with students.

It pulls them away from the front of the room and into frequent one-on-one instruction and micromanagement.

They spend their days rushing about, putting out fires, and trying to convince students to behave.

It’s emotionally exhausting. It’s stressful. And it’s grossly ineffective.

It steals from students the gift of responsibility, causing learned helplessness, boredom, dissatisfaction, and, ultimately, more misbehavior.

Furthermore, it narrows the teacher’s vision so much that they can’t see the big picture. They lose self-awareness, as well as spacial and physical awareness. They become stuck so far in the weeds that they’re not even aware there is a way out.

The most effective teachers, on the other hand, maintain a level of detachment from the job.

They’re still able to build strong, influential relationships with students, but those relationships are built on a foundation of trust, likability, and consistency.

Students are drawn to them not because they necessarily know each student well in a personal sense, but because they’re friendly and pleasant, day after day, and they do what they say they’re going to do.

They know that if they care too much, if they allow themselves to be pulled in too deep, then it will cloud their judgment.

It will cause them to take their students’ behavior personally, which will raise their stress level, skew their objectivity, and bring about feelings of frustration, irritability, and disappointment.

Furthermore, being overly invested makes leaving school at school at the end of every day (so you can return refreshed the next morning) all but impossible.

But it isn’t just healthy emotional distance that makes these teachers more effective.

It’s also physical distance. They tend to position themselves farther away than those who struggle. They frequently move back and away to look around and capture the big picture.

They recede into the background during independent and group work while handing greater and greater responsibility over to students.

Not only is this approach highly motivational, and a critical key to achievement, maturity, and accelerating academic progress, but it allows the teacher to observe and really learn about their students and their strengths and weaknesses.

It gives them perspective, impartiality, and wisdom along with strong leadership presence.

It allows them to see more, supervise better, and witness misbehavior when it actually happens. It also causes students to become fiercely independent and steerers of their own ship.

Again, though, it’s a modicum of detachment, particularly in the emotional sense. It’s not standoffish or impersonal. It isn’t cold or robotic or unfeeling.

It’s a subtle step back.

However, if you were to observe two teachers in action, one as described in the beginning of the article and the other with a sensible level of detachment, the difference in classroom behavior, maturity, and independence would be alarming.

For many teachers, this one change, this small tweak in emotional and physical distance, can be monumental, both in enjoyment of the job and effectiveness.

But it takes a thoughtful reevaluation of what it takes to be a good teacher. A shift in thinking.

A modern mindset.

A happy embrace of what really works in the classroom.

PS – There is a lot to this topic. To learn more, please check out the Learning & Independence category of the archive.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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33 Responses to Why Detachment Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

  1. Katie Luedloff January 27, 2018 at 8:51 am #

    I have transformed my classroom and teaching thanks to your book, “Dream Class” and your wonderful, informative articles!!!!!!!!!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:11 am #

      Way to go, Katie!

  2. Amy Muller January 27, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    This is one of your best articles to date and hugely effective. Thank you for validating with such eloquence what I have untuitied in my exprience with my students. I have been using the word “indifference” for lack of a better word “ but “detached “ is much , much more positive. I have noticed that a healthy emotional distance is very effective and will now always use the word “detached “.
    Again, this article is so helpful. I can’t thank you enough!
    Bravo! Will be sharing this with my colleagues !

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:11 am #

      My pleasure, Amy.

  3. Mimi January 27, 2018 at 10:34 am #

    This resonated with me. I am a new teacher and I think I am more like the first teacher you described right now. I would like to become more like the second. However, my question is if you take a step back during independent work time, where does this strategy fall in terms of students who don’t complete their work in a timely manner or at all during independent work time? I find myself constantly following up with students who don’t complete their in-class work because I feel like it’s my responsibility to make them complete it. Basically their entire grade in each class in classwork. Should I just be letting them not complete it and allow them to fail? I don’t think my school would be very pleased about that. What is your advice for how to handle this?

    • Julie Moonlight January 27, 2018 at 8:54 pm #

      I am wondering the same things you are wondering and I am following this thread to see if someone answers it. Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:02 am #

      Hi Mimi,

      I’ve written about this topic extensively here on the website (Learning & Independence category), and from many different angles, as well as in each of my books. There is a lot, however, and it’s important to get a full understanding of how and why it’s so powerful and how to do it in a way that is most effective. I’ll be sure to cover it again in a future article, because it’s so, so important but also can be challenging to grasp. In the meantime, I encourage you to read through all of the resources noted above.

      Here is a good place to start:

      https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2017/02/25/how-failure-can-be-good-for-your-students/

      https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2016/05/14/the-key-to-motivating-students/

  4. Lisa Groening January 27, 2018 at 11:39 am #

    Dang, this is right on. The more I teach, the more I realize this to be true. It’s hard for those of us who like to think we’re responsible for almost everything!

  5. Andrea Bontempi January 27, 2018 at 11:50 am #

    Michael, I have been a faithful follower and fan of yours for years! As a seasoned educator, I understand and appreciate what you are saying about detachment in classroom management. In a future article, would you please address the saying, “Students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This seems to contradict your warning about caring too much. As you know, misbehavior can be a sign of a student’s personal needs not being met; this is especially true for marginalized students who feel that no one cares for them in school or at home. Taking this a step further, at a local high school faculty meeting, the names of every student were posted around the room. With pen in hand, every member of the school faculty (staff included) did a gallery walk and put their initials next to the names of the students with whom they had a relationship and the student knew they cared. This was precipitated by the suicide of a popular athlete and honors student; no adult saw it coming. Caring must be genuinely sincere; it can make all the difference. So, although you alluded to this in your article, it’s worth revisiting to clarify the balance of detachment and caring in our 21st century classrooms. What does it really look like on a daily basis? Our young teachers need to know. Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:19 am #

      Hi Andrea,

      Yes, I will. However, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as described in our books and here on the website, it’s a stronger, more influential way of building relationships. If you get a chance, please read though the Rapport & Influence category of the archive. Here is a good place to start:

      https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2013/06/15/how-to-build-effortless-rapport/

  6. Captain Kevin January 27, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    I’m interested to read the reply to Mimi’s good question.

  7. Helen January 27, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

    I wish I had read this before I left teaching full-time. This describes exactly what happened to me, I was the teacher described in the beginning of the article.

  8. kelly January 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm #

    This is one of your best yet! Thank you for affirming what I believe and what I have been doing for years. At times, I feel like a lone ranger, but after this, I will stay the course. Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:19 am #

      I’m glad you think so, Kelly!

  9. Sari Ness January 27, 2018 at 6:39 pm #

    Reading this article makes me feel like you’ve interviewed my colleagues about me. This time of year, in recent years, I tell myself that I’m going to be something that I’m not the following August. That something boils down to “I’m not going to care, I’m just going to do my job.” I have been teaching 26 years and struggle with these choices. Thank you for this article. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a way to maintain my love for teaching (and truly caring about my kids) and staying in my chosen profession.

  10. Harry January 27, 2018 at 6:43 pm #

    I teach in a local school where the student/parent body are part of my community. I see and interact with my students (out of school) almost on a daily basis.

    While I agree that it’s imperative not to take misbehavior personally and to give yourself quality time, I respectfully disagree about being detached.

    When students see that you care for them and go above and beyond, I believe they will respond in kind – this is human nature.
    Also, at the end of the day, students will cherish those “special moments” you had with them much more than the material you taught.

    In today’s day and age when there are so many distractions and issues, it’s important to create a positive and caring classroom atmosphere. Going the extra mile is a good thing.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:22 am #

      Hi Harry,

      You’re misunderstanding the approach. Perhaps you’re new to the website, which is great! There is a lot to learn and a lot on this topic. There are over 450 articles in our archive and four books. When you get a chance, I encourage you to dig deeper. 🙂

  11. Betty J Faulkenberry January 27, 2018 at 6:54 pm #

    This is one of the issues and concerns I have been facing, and I find it to be very frustrating. Most definitely I am going to place these strategies into action in my teaching. I will use in moderation and on an as needed basis. I do question not allowing students to finish their school work on time and in a timely manner. Some students are faster with completion than others, and those slower may need some prompting and help in the form of instructions or time to finish their work. Not doing their classwork is not an option. Found this article very helpful. Thank You.

  12. Elizabeth January 27, 2018 at 9:56 pm #

    Teenagers need adults they can trust in their lives, whether those adults be teachers or not. What I’ve noticed is that they do not need adults to be their “friends”: they have plenty of those. Teens need adults to be anchors of stability.

    Teachers CAN still be positive and caring while maintaining a level of “professional detachment”, which is what I try to do–particularly on site. I’m an “older” middle-school teacher just into my fifth year of teaching, and rearing five children of my own (as well as sometimes teaching teens in my congregation) has truly clarified for me what they need.

    I have also attended swim meets and plays, occasionally taken assignments to homes, and celebrated milestones with my students. I smile as much as I can, address them each by name, compliment efforts in class and on assignments, and check in with them if they seem “off” for some reason. I also apologize when I think I need to do so: I want them to know I respect them as much as I expect them to respect me and my position as teacher.

    That is what it comes down to, really: whether it’s needing more time on an assignment or listening. We teachers can care and be professional at the same time as long as we are honest about both and what is best for our students.

    Thank you for the articles. I’ve been reading them for over a year, now, and sharing with my colleagues. I appreciate the clarity and focus in each article’s topic, as well as the perfect length.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:23 am #

      You’re welcome, Elizabeth.

  13. Nancy January 27, 2018 at 10:59 pm #

    Thank you! Your article could not have come at a better time.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:23 am #

      You’re welcome, Nancy.

  14. Yvonne Patton January 28, 2018 at 7:52 am #

    Hi Michael,
    I have learned so much over the years from your articles and emails.

    I do have a question about ‘that one child’, however. What do you do with a child who goes off every single day, with no apparent trigger (or a very mild one), who kicks and throws and screams – who’s every action has been documented to the hilt? The child that the parents insists that the ‘piece of $#!^ school’ has been bullying and picking on. The child you’ve tried to start fresh with every single day but you inwardly cringe every time you see him/her come off the bus with a face that would turn Medusa to stone – or who runs away screaming at you despite all your calming efforts, even if you talk to him/her later. The one you are afraid of – that he/she is going to hurt another child badly, or yourself – and no one can handle him/her – the principal, the Behavior Modification center, those trained in constraint… who ruins your class EVERY time she/he comes down and takes away the education of every other single child in that classroom. Every consequence has been exhausted – every form of behavior modification and classroom management strategy has been thwarted. What is left to do? In this case, I have informed my principal that if assaulted, I will call 911. I feel I and my staff have no options left. Have you any advice?

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 8:27 am #

      Hi Yvonne,

      Please read through the Difficult Student category of the archive. It does address what would be the best approach. However, for specific advice on a specific situation, you may want to consider personal coaching (menu bar).

  15. Helen January 28, 2018 at 8:49 am #

    I very much agree that detachment makes you a more effective teacher, and I understand how this principle goes hand in hand with many of the other principles and strategies you teach, which have helped me tremendously in my classroom.
    However, this article brought me back to a recurring feeling of frustration I have had in trying to learn and implement many of your suggestions. It’s not that I don’t agree with your philosophy–quite the opposite, in fact–it’s that I am not well-equipped to execute your methods.
    I grew up in an emotionally and psychologically abusive home, and I am now a codependent classroom teacher. It is definitely a weakness on many levels, but it also makes me more perceptive–able to recognize students who are struggling–and better able to help students who are going through mental health issues or trauma themselves.
    So when you talk about detachment, consistency, not taking things personally, doling out consequences dispassionately–I aspire to and try to practice these things every single day, but I am simply not wired this way.
    You admonish teachers who are too emotional, involved, affected—but I absolutely cannot stand that I am so affected by students and yet, on some level, I have very little choice in the matter. My body is simply highly skilled at “picking up” others’ emotions. I feel what others are feeling, and it takes a great deal of work and mindfulness to not act on those emotions, most of the time. And I do end up acting on them, more than I would like to admit.
    So for me, detachment is all the more important to learn or else, as you say, I will burn out.
    What I’m saying is: people who are overly affected by other people are not usually that way because they think it’s a great way to live, which is something you seem to imply in many of your articles–that we’re making this choice just because we don’t know there’s a better way.
    I would love to hear you acknowledge that detachment is actually harder for some teachers, (it’s still hard for all of us, I know) and maybe talk to some of us who are working on becoming less emotional but, because of what we have been through, find it to be an extremely tough, uphill battle.

    • Michael Linsin January 28, 2018 at 11:27 am #

      Hi Helen,

      I hear you, for sure. I know I need to do a better job of helping teachers like yourself who may find it difficult to make this transition. I do think it’s possible, however, very much so, even doable, and I have strategies in mind to help.

      I think the decide-first method and before-school visualization are a good place to start, and The Happy Teacher Habits was written in part to make everything easier, but there is more in the pipeline. I’m also considering an ebook on the topic. I’ll be sure to keep readers posted and include more articles over the coming year. Thanks for the feedback. 🙂

  16. Nisa January 29, 2018 at 3:01 am #

    Hi Michael, I am so glad that i found your blog. It helped with a lot of questions in my mind, sonthank you! I have a degree on Teaching English as second language but I have the littlest experience in teaching. I was just offered my first official job but it begins in second half of the school year and I am replacing another teacher. Any tips on how to handle the situation? I feel like, as i am gonna leave them at the end of this semester, i feel as if they are not my students and I am afraid they will feel that i am not their teacher.

    • Michael Linsin January 29, 2018 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Nisa,

      Just pretend that it’s the first day of school, a fresh start. You’ll do great!

  17. Shana Turner January 29, 2018 at 6:56 pm #

    Michael,

    I love it when you touch on a subject that is not intuitive but makes so much sense after you think about it.

    I am not teaching right now. But if I do get back into it, I will do so with greater calm and confidence after reading your writing.

    Thank you!
    Shana Turner

    • Michael Linsin January 30, 2018 at 8:33 am #

      You’re welcome, Shana.

  18. Elizabeth January 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm #

    I am definitely in the wrong profession, or at least for middle school. I have no control over my students in my art class, even with all the suggestions. Ive tried everything. I got your book for specials, Ive tried it – nothing seems to work for me. They do not take responsibility, they do not work for very long- they do not care. They dont care about consequences. It’s kind of a mad house. Of course some do work, but most dont. I cant even give decent instruction. and They wont stay quiet long enough for a video- Having so many – 30- is the hard part. I can manage the classes with 16… but 30 7th graders at a tough school is not working out for me. At this point I feel it is survival until summer. Then I guess I wont take the job next year, and look for elementary only. I work at several schools- a traveling art teacher. hoping for only one school soon- preferably elementary. Anyway, Im just venting. Thank you. (and what should I read when it is this bad? I guess I need to totally start over- again!

  19. Dale February 18, 2018 at 5:49 pm #

    Dear Michael

    Thank you for continuing to bring these articles up again and again. I’ve read several of your books multiple times, some days they work and some days they don’t, but, these articles keep reminding me of what I’m trying to achieve so, I refresh and try again. This year my son will be joining the ranks as a high school teacher and I have recommended many of your strategies to him.

    thanks.

    • Michael Linsin February 19, 2018 at 7:47 am #

      You’re welcome, Dale. Just keep improving.

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