A Powerful Paradigm Shift for Educators
Given the amount of time teachers and students spend together over the course of a year, relationships between the educators and students will form. It is inevitable. How productive those relationships are for both teachers and students, is left to question.
Understanding the tendencies of teachers who are not No-Nonsense Nurturers may support you to analyze the relationships you are building with students. While the quest to become a No-Nonsense Nurturer is a journey, understanding two less productive relationship building paradigms – what we call Unintended Enabling and Negative Controlling – can support that journey.
It’s important to note that the categorizations of Unintended Enabling and Negative Controlling are sweeping generalizations and are not prescriptive; nor are they completely accurate. However, the practices of Unintended Enabling and Negative Controlling can have detrimental, damaging, and devaluing repercussions for student-teacher relationships. You may find as you read through this post that some of your relationship-building strategies align with Unintended Enabling while others align more with Negative Controlling. You may also find that you already build relationships that resemble those of No-Nonsense Nurturers. Understanding all three relationship-building paradigms will help you to be more aware of the culture you are developing in your classroom and the relationships you are building with your students. As you read, work to recognize if you have any of the qualities noted. If you do, challenge yourself to take on a more empowered mindset – for yourself and your students.
Many teachers may not be comfortable taking a firm stand in their classrooms, thereby allowing students to be off task and disconnect from learning opportunities. We identify this tendency as Unintended Enabling. These teachers essentially “enable” their students to fail by lowering expectations for them. They amass a series of excuses for why the students cannot rise to high academic standards. The lowered expectations and excuses quickly catch up to the students and ultimately harm their ability to succeed in school and society.
Unintended Enabling: Hesitation to push students academically.
If students are academically disengaged and ignore assignments, teachers may avoid holding them accountable because they do not want to be “too hard” on them. They often make excuses for their students, like “Johnny has a really hard life. He is being raised by his grandmother and he really misses his mom. How can I expect him to complete all of his homework?”
We know all too well that many students face challenges, and these circumstances cannot be ignored. Rather than make excuses because of these challenges, No-Nonsense Nurturers work with their students to better understand their home life and their community. By understanding possible barriers, No-Nonsense Nurturers can be proactive in the lessons they develop, plan for more time when needed for assignments, open their classrooms for extra support or just a quiet place to do homework after school. By engaging in conversations with youth and families, No-Nonsense Nurturers work to remove judgment about the situation and support the current circumstances so students meet the high expectations and get the education they deserve and need.
Unintended Enabling: In an effort to be liked, teachers may attempt to be friends with their students.
Many teachers do this by overly praising students for the smallest accomplishments, sharing too much personal information with them, or pretending to share many of the same interests in music, video games, etc.
As high-performing teachers, No-Nonsense Nurturers realize that their students should build friendships with their peers and they support those relationships in any way they can. However, they also recognize that a teacher-student relationship is more that of a mentor or a guardian, not a friendship. No-Nonsense Nurturers work to earn respect so youth will seek them out when they need advice or support – academically or otherwise. No-Nonsense Nurturers realize that as a teacher, there is a dynamic in the classroom where the teacher does need to be in charge to set up a safe, nurturing environment for all learners.
Unintended Enabling: Reluctance to assert their authority and take charge of the classroom.
Rather than clearly communicating expectations to students, teachers may make weak, ineffectual disciplinary pleas such as “please listen to me” or threaten to discipline without following through. They may also back down if a student gets upset by taking away a consequence that was earned or agreeing not to report behavior, for example.
Students will have hard days and disruptions may happen. No-Nonsense Nurturers understand that many student disruptions may happen because students feel silenced or dehumanized in school. No-Nonsense Nurturers are not afraid of their students, but they instead embrace the challenges students face and support them in getting through them by listening to their needs and connecting with their students. Through adversity, a No-Nonsense Nurturer realizes this is a time to build relationships and deepen bonds with students. When outbursts do occur in the classroom, a No-Nonsense Nurturer understands the need to have a plan and to remain consistent until there is time to engage with the student who is struggling. No-Nonsense Nurturers do this by staying calm, re-stating expectations and following a consistent accountability hierarchy to ensure the struggling student(s) know they continue to have high expectations for them and the rest of the class knows they can handle situations that arise in our classroom.
Some teachers exhibit a negative, controlling attitude when interacting with their students. They often create this persona to ensure all students are on task and working toward the set academic standard at all costs. We have identified this tendency as Negative Controlling. These teachers tend to teach content instead of students. They may see their students as “empty vessels” that they need to fill with knowledge and relationships with youth often come secondary to meeting the teacher’s needs and/or academic objectives.
Negative Controlling: Overzealously assert their authority and take charge of their classrooms.
Rather than clearly communicating expectations to students—such as saying “Class voices are at level 1 at this time”—and, if appropriate, providing consequences, teachers may make aggressive, sarcastic statements or discipline students too quickly.
Discipline for a No-Nonsense Nurturer isn’t about power, it is about purpose and care.
Understanding the need for consequences will arise and in order to maintain high expectations for all of their students, No-Nonsense Nurturers set up and teach fair and just accountability hierarchies that are used throughout the year. This way, if a student does choose to be off task, there isn’t any bartering or negotiating, rather a fair and just consequence is given and the student is reminded that they are cared for and expected to engage in the learning activity.
Negative Controlling: Forget to humanize their students.
In an effort to stick to content, Negative Controllers prepare their lessons to teach content while forgetting to teach their students. They may express things like “I prepare my lessons every day. It is up to the students to decide whether or not they want to learn the material. I have no control over that.”
Relationships are going to develop in a classroom. No-Nonsense Nurturers recognize and understand students need to trust and respect them for optimal learning conditions. No-Nonsense Nurturers use the positive relationships they build with students as an entry into the content they love and want to share with their students. They teach students first and content second.
Negative Controlling: Push students academically but lessons often lack relevance.
If students are academically disengaged and ignore assignments, teachers in this paradigm are likely to hold the students accountable but in a punitive way. Because these teachers expect all students to be engaged, no matter what, they rarely take responsibility when their lessons are not relevant to their students and the students lose interest.
Humility brings opportunities to learn more about the communities they teach in. Asking questions, apologizing when wrong, and course correcting mid-lesson with a plan B, are all strategies No-Nonsense Nurturers use to build their cultural relevance, both in and outside of the classroom to make their lessons more relevant for their students. No-Nonsense Nurturers also make sure students grapple with hard problems to challenge them and push them into critical thinking about complex topics.
The truth is that nearly all teachers have slipped into one or both Unintended Enabling or Negative Controlling paradigms at one time or another. It’s important to start recognizing these tendencies and eliminating them as much as you can from your practice. If you do, relationships with your students will improve, efficacy in your classroom will increase and academic achievement will soar. In the end, your job satisfaction will be limitless as a No-Nonsense Nurturer.
By Kristyn Klei Borrero, Co-Founder and CEO of CT3
Kristyn’s most recent blog post can be found here, where she writes about ways for teachers to get support from their administrators.
Click here to read A Note to Educators: Pedagogy Surpasses Curriculum, a series on our blog by Kristyn and our Program Specialist, Carrie Lupoli. In it, they discuss the power of pedagogy over curriculum and high-leverage pedagogical strategies that make up any effective lesson.