Adapted from interviews with Keith Edmonds, Middle-level educator in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

What surprised me was that when I stopped being defensive, the students stopped taking what I said personally. If the teacher doesn’t take it personally, he or she is modeling for the students a way to cleanly address problems.

That kind of adult modeling has to come into play.

You have to show them how to handle listening to opinions you don’t like, things that could set you off, and how to stay away from knee-jerk reactions.

The basic message I try to send is: “You’re allowed to have that opinion, but the expectation is that we fix rule-breaking behavior.”

My words and my body language have to say that I’m not angry. The message I’m trying to give is: “That’s not good. I can’t accept that,” but all that I’m doing is shrugging my shoulders or putting my finger to my temple to communicate, “Think!”-something I’m always advising students to do.

A teacher colleague of mine had had a tough time with a student, and as she and I planned to conference with him and his parent, she was afraid.

The whole thing had become a personality battle.

She had become too emotionally involved.

The student was wrong in the first place, but it was the teacher’s emotion that brought her down to his level in the matter.

The student had had similar problems in 7th grade, and now in 9th those same behaviors were resurfacing.

I showed him in the conference that there were times when he crossed the line and asked did he remember how to stop short of that the way he did in 7th grade. That helped him.

The teacher got a chance to see where things tended to go wrong for her as a pattern when she interacted with students. She attributed too much meaning to everything, gave it a personal value, and then lost her own controls. When that happens, when you snap out with a student, he or she will run with it. You’ve got to keep from getting caught up, keep your power by keeping your cool.

Published January 2011