Ellen Sjong, teacher and consultant Lent (www.lent.no)
Good things happen in schools. For example, we have moved from assessment to assessment for learning, and as teachers, we have moved from a one-sided focus on subjects, to a more social focus as class leaders. But what do we mean by class leader? Or rather, what should it mean?
Much of what is written and said about classroom management is focused on the teacher to take back lost ground as the one who decides, the one who has control; in this, there is something both good and bad. The leader must feel safe and thus requires a sense of control. But to lead should not mean being the only one to decide. On the contrary, leading should be about creating collaboration. We need to develop a style of classroom management that is grounded in strengths, is relational, and has a strong democratic process structure. What do I mean by that?
Firstly, the focus should be strength-based. A good illustration for understanding the strength-based perspective is the half-empty and half-full glass of water. Both explanations are correct and exist simultaneously, but what we choose to talk about has a great impact on what we create with each other. There is now very good scientific evidence to say that when we focus on the half-full glass, we create good feelings such as pride and joy, and we create good relationships through conversations about what is already positive and present (Fredrickson, 2010). A strength-based focus is not just about watching and talking about “good”. It’s also about looking at what is missing – not as something missing in a negative way – but as an opportunity! From this perspective, the glass may be half-full, but it can also be filled. There is much left to learn, much left to get to, but we can do together, you – in good relationship with us!
Secondly, the focus should increasingly be on the class community and not just the individual. Good relationships are a very fundamental human need and essential for us to be at our best. All students (and the teacher) should not only feel a sense of belonging in class but also cohesion. Surveys of what in our class that already works well, of present resources and good results, create closeness. In relational classroom management, it is important that we work together to find out what we need from each other in order to believe in the good that already exists within each of us, and believe in what we can become. From a relational perspective, we emphasize the idea that we “create another”, and thus all have a mutual responsibility for each other’s growth. With more of these conditions in place, what can we create together? What is our common purpose? What results can we get?
However, it is not enough to have only a relational and strength-based focus. We also need tools to lead. Classroom leaders have a special responsibility to drive the process through which we learn; to hold the perspective that the glass is half-full, and believe that it can be filled completely. We need to learn to ”play each other better” and thus create self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, coping, and learning pleasure. There are many possibilities and a lot we have not yet discovered. But my experience is that we are already well on the way and have excellent tools for strength-based class leadership in applied positive psychology, in process management and the action research: Appreciative Inquiry.
Fredrickson, B. (2010). Positivity. Ground Breaking Research Thurs Release Your Inner Optimist
and Thrive. Oxford: Oneworld Publications