Dealing with Justified Anger
In the last Newsletter, ‘Dealing with the Angry Ant’ (4 May 2021) we discussed that anger when justified was an appropriate emotion. For the damaged kids we focus on, all too often use the energy the anger generates for behaviours that do not address their grievance but lead to unwanted consequences that will see them punished. The legitimate sense of ‘unfairness’ they experience only reinforces their sense of hopelessness. One of the most difficult but valuable skills you can teach these students is to address injustice with honest assertiveness.
Teaching how to appropriately assert their rights can be achieved through direct instruction, that is you run lessons on assertive behaviour but, in most mainstream classes only one or two students in the class might need to learn these skills. The best way, as is the case with teaching most social skills is through modelling the behaviours you want the students to adopt and taking advantage of those inevitable ‘teaching moments’ to reinforce the skills you want them to develop. Intervening when the situation appears and then explaining what is happening and what should happen not only instructs the student who needs to learn assertiveness but also reinforces the sense of fairness you expect in your class. This gives rise to a sense of community within your students as outlined in The Tribal Classroom (01 August 2018).
As pointed out modelling is the best way to teach social responsibility and outstanding teachers do this through:
- Respond to kids with unconditional respect.
- Always respond to a child in and adult manner
- Not judgemental
- Listen unconditionally to what is said.
Make sure you always:
- Let them tell their story without interruption.
- Take their complaint seriously.
- Validate their emotions without conceding the legitimacy of their complaint.
- Let them know you are listening in a non-aggressive manner.
- Don’t take their anger personally.
- Make sure you really understand the issue. Summarise the main points as you see them and repeat them back to them.
- Seek clarification if needed.
- If possible, reach an agreed understanding of the dispute.
A mistake made by some teachers, especially those in their early years of their careers is to try to be liked by everyone; this is a sign of mediocrity. This is most demonstrated in the way you actually listen to the students, particularly when they are emotional. The following points build a framework for ensure this does not happen:
Respect – Do not make your support conditional, that is don’t say things like:
- ‘If you do what I want I will be fair to you!’
- ‘If you don’t, I will reprimand you!’
Unfortunately, about 90% of teachers operate in this fashion. This approach is taken by those teachers who use a ‘buddy’ approach to their work, the kids behave because they want your attention and the child must compromise his or her own needs to placate the teacher.
Another mistake, teachers make is to constantly try to find fault with what the child is reporting. They determine what is the difference between what they are saying and what you think is going on so they can mount an argument that satisfies their version of the disputed situation. Nothing new is learned if you take this approach.
Be empathetic by:
- Listening to the student with a view of seeing the situation through their eyes.
- Combine how they see the situation along with how we see the situation to create a new, shared belief about what was really going on.
This approach is often called serial processing, we begin to learn new things – we change our belief schemas and the teacher and child can change their opinion of each other! When we do this new respect and trust can be accomplished.
An opportunity to teach appropriate assertiveness regularly occurs in your day-to-day teaching. Take the following example. A particular child is always late for class and this is a situation that should make you angry. You could yell at them, punish them or use the boundary questions outlined in the previous Newsletter you can deal with your justified anger, in front of the class the following way:
- Explanation – Convey the situation as you see it and be specific. Point out to the child that because they are late the rest of the class must wait while you go over the initial instructions of the work, that is unfair.
- Feelings – Let the child know how you feel and take responsibility for these emotions. When you are late, I get frustrated because you inconvenience me and your classmates but importantly you are missing out on sharing the lesson with all of us. This last part is to build their feeling of belonging to the group.
- Needs – Say what you want. Be selective, realistic and be prepared to negotiate but come to a plan everyone understands and agrees with. For really oppositional kids to admit they agree is too hard so accept their acknowledgement that they understand.
- Consequences – Outline how things will be if there are changes or if they stay as they are. This is when you outline the positive and negative consequences for that behaviour if it continues.
When you start to introduce this assertive approach, the following script will help until you integrate the steps outlined above. In the first instance you say the following to the particular student:
- “When you …”
- “I feel …”
- “Because …”
With more difficult students a more direct approach may be needed:
Appreciating the protective qualities of strong boundaries and the constructive way to assert your rights is really the best lesson you can give any student particularly those whose early learning may have damaged any sense of worth they might have had. These steps are the underpinning of any proper behaviour when dealing with other members of any community!