Tools That Work And Why We Abandon Them

23 May

Some years ago I tried my hand at insurance sales. I had to learn the hard way that I am not very good at selling, though I really liked the guys I worked with, especially the boss, who was a prince of a man. He used to tell me on a regular basis that he would find a tool that was really effective and he would work it for all it was worth for several months. Later, he would find his sales were falling off and he would wonder why. On closer inspection he would find that for some strange reason he had stopped using the tool that had been so effective. It’s a strange quirk of human nature that we do this; we find something that works and use it effectively, then we feel like we have graduated past needing it and stop using it- to our detriment.

Strange as that may seem, I have found the same to be true of teaching. Several months ago I discovered the effectiveness of bending down to talk to a disruptive student and whispering in their ear (this is a stage whisper that can usually be heard by curious students three aisles over) “You are a bright student and I like having you in my class. However, I cannot tolerate these continuous disruptions. The next time you do that I will have to ask you to leave.”

This strategy works for several reasons; 1) most students are terribly self absorbed and a bit insecure, so a complement serves them well, 2) it is completely devoid of drama and rarely provokes a haughty reply, 3) it puts the onus of responsibility squarely where it belongs- on the student. There is no mystery about what is going to happen; the next time they disrupt you calmly take action. Period.

One of the  things I like most about this strategy is that I stay friends with the student being disciplined. There is no anger or drama, so I can see the student later in the day or on a following day and speak to them as if this incident never happened. I could not do that if I berated the student, told them how bad they were and then made a show of removing them from class as I saw someone else do today. I hate that… or at least, I did.

Yesterday, someone told me they thought I was mean. “What happened,” they said, “You used to be so nice!” I brushed the statement off at first since the one saying it had just been disciplined, but on further consideration I realized I had got away from quietly instructing students who misbehaved before pulling the trigger on discipline.

I know, some behavior does not warrant this approach. Yesterday I heard a girl call out and turned just in time to see her strike her neighbor. I immediately sent her out of the room without a warning. Students should know that striking another student is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. But other things, like talking out of turn, deserve a bit more finesse. That’s where the quiet description of what is going to happen works particularly well.

I promised myself today that I would go back to what I knew would work, and sure enough, it did work, just as it had in the past. Why do we move away from things we know are effective? I don’t know. Some strange quirk of human nature, I suppose. But we can overcome that tendency if we try.

Make careful note of what is working for you and review those notes religiously. Look for the things you may have drifted away from that could be serving you well now. Most of us know what we need to do, we just wander away from it after a time. Get back to basics and make things work for you again.


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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Growth


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