Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leadership Basics - Lessons of Classroom Management

Today was my second day as an Academic Coach.  Since I was filling in, I had the pleasure of working with elementary age children.  The best thing about the experience was the confidence it gave me in classroom management.

Classroom management is something you can learn.  That said, it is also something that comes more naturally to certain people with certain personality traits.  Children need structure.  Boundaries need to be set.  Boundaries don't mean you're being hard on them, or that you don't like them.  They mean security, and children need security.  They need to know what to expect and what to do.  They need routines. If there is any weakness in your approach, any opening, any question about anything, be prepared to be overrun by undesirable behaviors - it is guaranteed. 

Obviously, some children are saints. They do exactly what you say when you ask every time.  You never have to tell them twice. Kids are people, and people are different from one another.  Each child responds to things differently and some of them are little devils.  Let's be honest - you have no idea what their home life is, and you have no idea what else might be going on with them (maybe they just have personality traits that are difficult for a class setting).  This is why it is necessary for flexible structures to be in place. 

Let me give you an example. When my brother was little, he was a terror.  He had to constantly keep moving.  He couldn't sit still. In addition to that, he was ridiculously stubborn.  Put those things together and many teachers didn't know what to do with him.  He didn't fit the rubric of the middle of the road student.  He couldn't function with the regular routine of school - it didn't fit him.  The thing was, if you gave him something tactile to do, let him get up and take walks periodically, and talked with him, he was a good kid and had no problems.  He just needed specific rules and ways of being in his class that happened to be different from other students. 

Now that I am in a classroom of sorts, I am reminded of my different experiences with various age groups and types of kids.  Understand the child, and you can come up with structures that work for that kid - like taking a walk did for my brother.  But children aren't the only ones who need certain structures to be in place, and school isn't the only place where these things can be applied.

The same thing can be said for adults.  They say teachers are the worst students.  You pile them into a classroom and they talk and pass notes like the best of them.  I've seen this first hand.  It's totally true.  I'm sure doctors likewise make phenomenal patients (riiight).  So how do you get people to listen to you? How do you make a situation work to your advantage so that you can be the person calling the shots and others will accept this? How can you be in a place where you are able to set up rules and routines that will be followed? You need to be a leader.  There are several things that are necessary in order to be seen as a leader no matter what the situation:

  1. Presence.  A person first needs presence.  It is a mixture of confidence and self-assurance that comes through in your walk, the way you speak, and even how you hold yourself when you stand still.  
  2. Secondly, you need to be assertive.  No one takes a namby-pamby person seriously.  When you speak with authority people will give it to you, be they children or adults.
  3. You need to mean what you say. This means following through on your word in your actions.  There must be consequences for actions, and when you state those consequences you need to be willing to see them through to the end.
These are the basics.  After that, window dressing is things like humor, and kindness (not by sacrificing the three aforementioned traits however).   Of course we could say that being understanding might also fit into an essential leadership trait, but there have been many leaders who have not been understanding.  That is something that is ideal, not necessary.

Roy Donkin, my dad
Luckily for me these traits are things I either had already or learned from my parents growing up.  My parents, being ministers, regularly command the attention of large groups of people and so it is no wonder that I picked up a few things from them as I went along.  In this I had an informal training of the best kind.  Of course, it makes it difficult for me to get certain types of positions and frequently I scare people.  I've been told I channel the nature of second grade teacher. made high schoolers feel like the scum of the earth, and college students like they were three year olds. Still, I wouldn't trade the ability to command attention or respect for anything.  It is something that more people need and it takes practice like all things.  So practice asserting yourself!  Be confident!  Whatever you need to tell yourself in the morning - that you are spectacular, brilliant, funny, or a leader - just do it!  And always promise something you CAN do.  You'll win every time.

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