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Good Advice On “De-Escalating Power Struggles In The Classroom”

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Power struggles in the classroom are bad news. And, to modify an old community organizing adage: “Sometimes the only worse thing than losing a power struggle is winning one.”

Our School District puts out a monthly “Equity Newsletter,” and the most recent issue had a good article headlined “Resources For De-Escalating Power Struggles In The Classroom” by Jacki Glasper (I couldn’t find a way to link to its webpage, so you can download it here).

Here is an excerpt from the article sharing good suggestions. My colleagues and I talked about it and, though we all agreed the ideas are good ones, we did have concerns about some of the suggested language used, which I note in the excerpt:

1. Recognize that the power struggle is happening. “I can see that we are going to get into an argument, so let’s talk about this later.”  [Not the best phrasing, particularly “I can see that we are going to get into an argument.”  Recommended alternative language: “I’m sorry we’re having some tension – let’s talk about this later.”]

2. PEP Talk – Privacy, Eye Contact, Proximity. Talk to kids privately. This can be just a quick whisper in their ear. If they shout out, ignore them and pretend you don’t know what they are talking about. You can also move on and find them later to discuss the issue.

3. Listen. Hear what the student is really saying or expressing to you. Difficult behaviors are often a symptom of something else. Is the student seeking attention? Does the student feel “dumb” or hopeless?

4. Acknowledge & Agree. Let the student know you hear him or her and acknowledge his or her feelings. Say you’re sorry even if you don’t think you did anything wrong. For example, you can say: “I’m sorry if I said or did something to get you so angry. Maybe you can tell me what I did so I won’t make the same mistake again.”

5. Defer. Let the student know that you will discuss this issue at a later time. Tell students, “I will not always stop teaching to deal with a behavior. I will deal with it when I am ready.” [Not the best phrasing – it doesn’t communicate “de-escalation.” Instead, say “I’m sorry we’re having some tension – let’s talk about this later.”]

6. Walk Away! Students don’t want to look bad and neither do you as the teacher. Allow students to save face. Let them talk under their breath. If they are doing what we want them to do, then it really doesn’t matter who has the last word – you’ve won the struggle. Use humor and don’t take yourself so seriously.

Do you have other simple advice?

I’m adding this post to Best Posts On Classroom Management.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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