By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
Margaret Townsend watched as her new principal, Brian Ashton, filled several legal pad pages with notes during his contractual observation of her. She kept one eye on what she was doing with the fourth graders and another eye on the administrator as he scribbled endlessly across the pages. Margaret wasn't too worried about the evaluation process because it happened every two years and her evaluations had always been excellent. Yet, the principal was new and she really didn't know what he thought of her. And he just kept writing.
Later that day Margaret met with Mr. Ashton for the official evaluation review meeting. He began by telling her all the things he saw that were positive and uplifting. He mentioned how she greeted the children at the door, gave them all eye contact, and frequently smiled. He shared his observation that her questions required higher level thinking, that she used anticipatory set to motivate students to listen, and that she encouraged them to become actively involved in sharing with a partner on different occasions. None of his positive observations surprised her. As a seasoned veteran of thirty years of teaching, Mrs. Townsend knew how to put on a good show for the semiannual evaluation. Or so she thought.
"Now, I want to suggest a growing edge," Mr. Ashton told her. "A growing edge is one area that I would like to suggest you work on for the next two months. I want you to see if you can reduce the number of commands you issue to students. In my opinion there were way too many commands. Commands activate the command-resistance cycle. The more you command, the more students resist, especially the students with power problems."
"I don't understand what you mean by 'commands'," Margaret responded.
"Let me give you a few examples," Mr. Aston said. "Here is a list of commands I heard you give in the first half hour this morning."
Come in quietly.
Hang your coats up.
Get right to your seats.
Look at the board for the assignment. Take out your math books.
Billy, turn around.
Turn to page 56.
Jason, read the first paragraph, please.
Anita, pay attention.
Brandon, read the second paragraph.
Take out a pencil.
Do the first problem on scrap paper.
Do your best.
Eyes up here.
And on the list went with over forty commands. Margaret was stunned by the number of items it contained. She was shocked that all those verbal commands had come out of her mouth.
After agreeing to work on the growing edge of giving commands, Margaret signed the evaluation document which mentioned her many strengths and vowed to work on the one area recommended by Mr. Ashton.
The next morning, determined to cut down the number of commands she issued, Margaret made a conscious effort to alter her teacher talk. "You know where your coats belong," she said, instead of commanding, "Hang your coats up." The students all knew what to do and followed through.
"The assignment is on the board," she told the class, trusting that the students were smart enough to figure out an appropriate next move. They were.
"I'm on page 61," she announced a bit later, resisting the urge to tell her students what page to turn to. Once again, they made the proper choice.
When Missy and Pablo began whispering, Margaret almost told them to stop talking. Instead she bit her tongue, reflected for a moment, and said, "Missy and Carlos, that's a side conversation. It is distracting. Please make a different choice." They did.
"You'll need a pencil" took the place of "Get your pencils out." "Pencils down" was replaced with "Time is up."
When Billy turned around yet again to talk with Paul, Mrs. Townsend resisted the urge to tell him what to do. Instead, she gave him information about herself. "I need your attention, Billy," she informed him. He turned around without needing a command.
Over time, Mrs. Townsend was able to drastically reduce the number of commands that had previously characterized her teacher talk. With fewer commands her students became more empowered and they began to see themselves as more capable. As commands were reduced so was student resistance. By changing her teacher talk Mrs. Townsend was able to interrupt the command-resistance cycle in her classroom and add to the growth and maturity of her fourth graders.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children: Practical Strategies for Parents and Teachers to Help Children Manifest a Better World. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it or to obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their website today: www.personalpowerpress.com.