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How to Hold Your Ground in the Classroom

Learn how to hold your ground in the classroom from education consultant Grace Dearborn in this Howcast video.


Holding ground is one of those things that as classroom teachers we have to do all day every day. And if we can learn to do it effectively, the rest of classroom management is kind of a piece of cake in comparison. But it can be really challenging and uncomfortable to do, so my suggestion to you is get really comfortable with the idea of "no." Right, to me the word "no" is kind of the essence of classroom management and holding ground with kids. And while that doesn't sound really positive or like the positive discipline, it's not necessarily the word "no" it's just what it represents to me. And what it represents to me is that moment in time when what I want and what a student or students want is different and I choose to hold my ground in that moment in time. That's what "no" represents to me. And when I can learn to do that, to hold that ground, without beating up the student, without blaming them for asking me for whatever they're asking me in the first place, if I can do it firmly and softly, the rest of classroom management will be a piece of cake in comparison.

One of my all time favorite strategies in the classroom, something that after I learned it I said every day at at least once, was the phrase "I understand, and the answer is no." It's still, it's holding ground. It's saying no when I need to say no, but it is also expressing to the student that I heard what they said. I thought about it, and right now the answer is no. And so, within it, it has a really soft feel, like, I'm almost softly saying, "Please and thank you." "I understand" is like saying "Thank you. Thank you for sharing that information with me." "And the answer is like no" is like saying, "And now, please have a seat." Right, it's firm, but it's soft at the same time. And when we're holding ground effectively with our students, it will also have kind of an inherent softness in it while still totally being "no."

Also, one last thing related to holding ground with students is when you are saying no to a student, oh and by the way, you don't have to use the word "no." Right, if that doesn't feel comfortable to you, then you can use different words. "Yes, Johnny, you can go to the bathroom in ten minutes when the bell rings." Right, it's not about using the word "no," about holding ground with kids in a soft but structured way. Last thing I'll say about that is when you're holding ground with a student, you don't need to give them a reason why you're saying no or why you're holding ground with them. Kids will ask for reasons, but their asking for reasons is just a way to derail us and hooks us into a side conversation so there can be less content, less focus, and less engagement happening in the lesson or in the classroom. So if a student asks you, "Well, why can't I got right now?" or "Why this?" or "Why are you being like this?" say, "You know what, I hear what you're saying. Come and talk to me in ten minutes and I'll have an answer for you." or "Come and see me at lunch, and I'll be happy to explain all of my reasons why, but right now it's this." Delay that explanation until later. Get the student back on task right away. And what you will find is later, most of the time, that student does not come to see you at lunch to get that explanation because they didn't really need it in the first place. They were just emoting in that moment. We give them a moment to calm down and hold our boundaries with them around what we need and how we need it in that moment, then they go "Oh, I already know," and they don't give up their lunchtime to come and talk to us about it. Those are some ideas about holding ground with kids.

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