July 1, 2012

An excerpt from ROLE Reversal

“Teachers tend to have control issues in their classroom. We have a paradigm of what teaching looks like. This paradigm usually includes teachers in front teaching students who are at their seats” (Jenkins, 2011). Without turning this into another book on classroom management, I want to clearly illustrate how I gave up the kind of control Jenkins describes and what I’ve replaced it with.

For a moment, consider the rules and consequences listed at the beginning of this chapter. I used to live by these. In the my-way-or-the-highway days, a student caught chewing gum more than once was asked to come after school and clean gum off of desks – a revolting punishment that I stood firmly on, even when challenged one time by an angry parent. Entering my room in pants with holes in the knees was grounds for dismissal to our Student Management Room. If a cell phone rang, it was immediately taken and turned into the office. Disruptive students were shouted at and told to see the principal. Notes were sent home, parents were called, and formal referrals were written and placed in permanent records.

Today, I have no rules and I don’t raise my voice. Students chew gum if they like, wear jeans with holes and use cell phones and iPods regularly. My bathroom policy is simple: students go when the need arises. I talk to those who leave too frequently and explain the value of being in class. “I don’t want you to miss any important discussions, reading or time you might be working on a project,” I say. “Remember, your group members are counting on you.” The key is emphasizing the value of class – not admonishing a kid who may legitimately be answering nature’s call.

Forcing students to ask for permission for natural acts like going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water is a further demonstration of teacher control. These are the kinds of teachers who are seen as authority figures, rather than as facilitators of learning. If you suggest that you want students to have autonomy, yet you enforce insignificant rules and policies, you risk undermining the freedom that you say you want students to have in a results-only classroom.

Consider just how powerful not enforcing silly rules is, when it comes to creating a comfortable learning environment. The majority of my students spend three-fourths of their school day being told “no” or “don’t” by adults. No gum, no candy, no cell phones, no torn jeans, no leaving your seat. Don’t go to the bathroom, don’t talk to your friend and don’t you dare walk in without a pencil. Then, they come to the results-only classroom and are met with an uncanny freedom. You might think they race in and start blowing bubbles, jumping up and down, shouting and sending text messages by the dozens. Quite the contrary.

There is a remarkable respect for the ROLE. Since I’ve spent so much time coaching intrinsic motivation, cooperative learning and community building, my students buy in. Believe it or not, almost all of them just want to do things right.

Jenkins, N. (Designer). (2011). Shut up and teach. [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from

Don't miss ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, due in early 2013 by ASCD, the world's top educational leadership organization