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If you’ve been teaching for any amount of time, you have likely encountered those students who tend to shut down. There are many reasons why a student will have difficulties, and it is important to understand how to create the best environment possible for them.

Too often, we see what we do in the classroom as management. What if we changed our strategy from management to leadership? How would that affect what happens in our classroom?

The Attitude of Leadership

What do you think of when you think of the word management? What pictures pop into your head?

For me, I see a factory worker and the boss watching that person, making sure that they get everything was done that needs to be done. The employee may not enjoy the work, but there is a paycheck waiting at the end, so they continue.

For our students, they may not understand or enjoy their classes, but there is a report card waiting for them at the end of the term, and good grades on that report card mean they won’t be punished for not completing their work.

Contrast this picture with one of a sports team or club. When I played sports, my coach certainly told me what to do, but I am the one who chose to be there. And to get better, I knew I needed to listen to my coach and follow his advice. His job was to make me a better runner, and if that were also my goal, I would follow his lead and know I would make progress toward that goal.

*Strategy tip - you have to make personal connections with your students to understand their goals and their unique situations. One way to do that is to stand at the classroom door before class begins and greet each student with a question unrelated to math. Some examples might be, “What are you good at?” “What are your plans for the weekend?”

Engagement and Accountability

The factory worker who hates his job may decide it’s not worth it. If he fails to do his job, he can be fired. With our students, we don’t have that option, so we need to find ways to engage our students and provide them with accountability.

When I share with my students' things that I’m working on, or if I ask them to give me a moment to think of a better explanation for something they don’t understand, I am building a bridge to them instead of making them feel alienated.

When your students see you trying to find better ways of teaching and looking for ways to help them, most students will want to reciprocate by giving you the attention you need. It also encourages them to try harder to learn the concepts and not to give up.

Giving Back

Teachers can take a real beating in this world sometimes. We can feel unappreciated and misunderstood by the media, by our administrators, and by the parents of our students.

It is important for us to find other ways of contributing to the world besides teaching. When you look for the special thing that you feel called to do, don’t always look at the biggest needs. We know that each of our students needs good food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but sometimes we need to consider the smaller pieces of life.

As you choose a place to serve, consider your gifts and what you feel passionate about. As teachers, we can affect our students in many ways, to reach out to them and let them know that we care. Building relationships with your students can give you a huge sense of gratitude, knowing that you are making a real difference in their lives.

I understand how frustrating it can be to try to do all the things that are required of us as teachers. The standards are ever changing; there are tests to prepare for and challenges to meet. But I would encourage you to take a minute and ask that student who you think may be struggling what you can do to help them.

Leadership brings with it personal rewards, as well as rewards for those you lead. You deserve those wonderful feelings associated with leading a group of people/students to meet their goals.

I hope this has been helpful today. Please comment below and let me know how you balance management and leadership in your classroom.