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Transformative Classroom Management

Sending a message to the other students that the teacher can get hooked into a power

Sending the message to the other students that when a student says no to the contract, he
or she is given only short-term pain and not held responsible in a meaningful manner.



How do you tend to respond when students challenge you? What happens when you take the
challenge and engage the student?

What do you do to address level II cases in which a student challenges you other than
to react unconsciously to the personal offense? Curwin and Mendler (1986) offer a process
for dealing with a power struggle successfully. It provides a coherent and sensible approach
to dealing with student-teacher conflic that will save pain and suffering. Considered within
the context of the social contract, it has the following effects:

Strengthening the social contract by reinforcing it

Placing the responsibility on the student

Indirectly teaching (social learning model) that living up to the commitment to the social
contract takes precedence over selfishnes

Teaching that a game or emotional hook is not going to work to change the rules that are
outlined by the social contract

Dealing with a Power Struggle

Curwin and Mendler (1986) offer seven steps to success when confronted by a student who
attempts to engage in a power struggle:
Step 1: Do not manufacture power struggles by the way you teach. By and large, power
struggles are a result of a students attempt to satisfy an unmet need. Students who feel
a sense of power and control, are making progress toward their goals, are supported by
the teacher, have avenues to share concerns, and are given choices and not backed into
corners by harsh directives will be much less likely to feel the need to engage the teacher
in a power struggle.
Step 2: Move into a private encounter. If the encounter begins publicly, quickly move it
into a private, one-to-one interaction. A public stage will put students in a position where
they must defend their image and put you in a position in which you feel the need to
demonstrate your power.


Recall the social learning model here. What does public implementation create? How does the
audience factor affect the students thinking?

A Win-Win Approach to Conflict Resolution and Potential Power Struggles


Step 3: Avoid being hooked in by the student. If the student tries to hook you in by making
you feel guilty or responsible for his or her inappropriate behavior, ignore the hook and
give the responsibility back to the student. A hook is intended to shift the focus externally
to you or some other factor. The student is acting to shift blame and pull you in. If you
become drawn in on a personal level, the student is in control.

Common Power Struggle Hooks

You are not a good teacher.
You do not like me.
No one likes me.
You are prejudiced.
Other teachers let me do this.
You let everyone else do it.
I can see why people say you are such a

School is a waste of time, especially this class.

I promise not to do it again. Just leave me alone.

What hooks have you heard students use? Share your story with your colleagues or classmates.
Reflect on what the hooks are intended to do and why it is so tempting to play into them.

Step 4: Calmly acknowledge the power struggle. It is counterproductive to show anger or

fle your strength. Instead, calmly acknowledge that things appear to be heading toward
a power struggle, which would surely make any eventual outcome worse. Ask the student
to consider how the situation could end up in a win-win scenario.
Step 5: Validate the students feelings and concerns. Use phrases such as, I understand
your feeling the way you do, but that does not excuse what you did, or Those feelings
make sense; I can see why you think that, but . . . Feelings are important and valued, but
they are beside the point. Throughout the process, project an unconditional positive regard
for the student. You understand the students feelings and concerns but at the same time
maintain a clear understanding that he or she is accountable. If you become negative, the
student will lose sight that the intervention is about his or her responsibility and see it as
a punishment that is coming from an external agent (that is, the teacher).
Step 6: Keep the focus on the students choice, and simply state the consequence (repeating
if necessary). No matter what hook the student tries to use, keep the focus on the fact
that the student made a choice to violate the rule or social contract (I understand that
you feel this is unfair, but you made the choice to do this. The consequence we decided
on for that is . . . ) The act was the students choice. Therefore, the student must accept
responsibility. If the student does not accept the logical or agreed-on consequence, he or



Transformative Classroom Management

she can choose to accept a more significan consequence, such as losing the opportunity to
be present for part of the class or activity. Calmly repeating the agreement can reinforce
the point to the student that he or she needs to make a choice or take responsible action.
The rest of the conversation is secondary. Be careful not to badger the student. A calm
or encouraging affect can be effective; aggressiveness will be counterproductive. There is
no need to escalate or act out your power. In fact, you already have the very real power
of the social contract and your rights as a teacher.


When you visualize a power struggle with a student, do you find yourself naturally wanting to
be either aggressive or feeling fearful? Take a moment to visualize a power struggle situation.
What emotions do you feel? Now visualize the interaction without fear or aggressiveness; simply
include awareness and clear communication. Can you feel your thinking becoming clearer, and
can you see the student as less threatening as well?

Step 7: Put your emotional energy into constructive matters. After you have communicated
the choices, it is not useful to dwell on the students behavior. There is no need to hover
or pressure the student. Shift your attention back to your teaching. Model constructive,
rational, positive behavior.
Applying the Steps to a Classroom Situation
Let us apply the seven steps to a classroom situation in which a student exhibits level II
misbehavior and challenges the teacher to a power struggle. Assume that the teacher has
done an effective job of developing the social contract and creating clear expectations in the
class. On this day, for some reasonperhaps displaced aggression from an earlier parent-child
interactionthe student tries to engage the teacher in a power struggle.
Imagine that you have just completed an activity in which students individually complete
a project requiring them to use paper and poster-making materials. You give the class a
five-minut warning before asking them to clean up their desk areas and get ready to go. As you
are about to dismiss them, you note that some paper scraps remain on one desk. According to
sound technical management principles (and consistent with your social contract), you calmly
repeat, When all the desks are clear and all the materials are put away, we can go. On
just about any other day, this would have been suff cient to motivate all the students to fulfil
their responsibility to the class and the social contract. But today is different: one student does
not move to clear the desk. Lets suppose that the student is hinting at his disposition on the
matter by avoiding eye contact with you. As your blood pressure begins to rise, you remember
that you need to be purposeful and deliberate and use this opportunity to take a step forward
in your own conflic skills, toward better classroom relationships and improved clarity of the
classroom social contract. You dismiss the rest of the class and ask the student to stay.
Here is how to apply the seven-step process in this power struggle:
Step 1: Consider if your actions may have been a contributing factor. Consider that there
may have been an occurrence during the activity that the student may be reacting to. Did
you possibly make an inadvertently derogatory comment about the work, or have you
perhaps alienated the student in the past? If so, this is a good time to do some healing.
However, no matter what has happened, the bottom line is the samethe student agreed
to live up to the social contract, and part of that responsibility is to do his part of the
cleanup. Your request was reasonable. You are the facilitator of the contract, so it was your