Areas of Indifference
Teachers are often faced with a class that is ‘out of control’ and we previously have discussed (Taming that Difficult Class April 2018) the advantage of taking an inventory of all the ‘things that are wrong’ and dividing them up into manageable chunks. The crafty understanding behind this approach is the handling of the students’ stress levels, their level of arousal that any change to existing behaviour involves.
The graph below illustrates the process involved. When the teacher changes the behavioural environment in such a way that the student’s behaviour attracts a negative consequence that student will be thrown into a state of disequilibrium and experience the stress that comes from that disorder. However, if the consequences are not overwhelming and delivered in a way that respects the child and focuses on the behaviour, that stress will soon subside and the student will return to a state of calm even though they have accepted a ‘new environment’ as being normal.
So if the teacher has followed the advice of examining all the problems and choosing one to attack it is important that the targeted behaviour is not extremely threatening. From this it is obvious that the taming of a dysfunctional classroom is a process over time that involves a change in the structured environment that occurs during that period of time. You never ask for big changes and you move the behaviour in a non-threatening manner. The harder you push the more stressed they will be and the more they will resist.
This model exploits the process used by negotiators who work to resolve conflict between two parties. In any dispute there are some areas that both can agree are not that important and are willing to sacrifice to facilitate a settlement. These are referred as areas of indifference. Once they give them up they no longer become in dispute. By slowly moving both parties through these areas they eventually identify the core problems and the energy can be focused on a possible solution.
As teacher we are not negotiating the right for all students to be taught in a calm, supportive environment and so we focus on moving the students to our desired position through a series of their points of indifference. Each stage refers to a ‘rule’ you have negotiated using the process discussed. This is important because you can refer to that rule when delivering the consequence while pointing out the student’s ownership of that consequence. This allows the relationship to remain in place over the long term.
This diagram illustrates the step process in making change in the classroom.
Finally be aware that your behaviour towards the students as they move through this process is important. When they inevitably complain about the new situation you should pay them the courtesy of actively listening to them making sure your non-verbal communication, body language, facial expression and tone of voice is not confrontational.
If you do follow this process of structured management there will come a time when the students will accept that you do have control and that is for their benefit. You have created a new environment and they have learned a new set of behaviours to achieve a state of equilibrium.