Detachment or ‘emotional objectivity’ (Marzano et al., 2008), otherwise known by the everyday term ‘don’t take it personally’ is sage advice that will save your sanity and your blood pressure. Detachment simply means to depersonalise – do not be offended by anything that happens, what students say, do or do not do. If a student swears at you, refuses to do what you ask or just ignores you completely, remember there are root causes responsible for this behaviour. Even though it may seem like it in the moment, they are almost certainly not engaged in a power struggle or trying to offend you. In fact, their behaviour has very little to do with you at all – students don’t wake up thinking, ‘today I am going to annoy my teacher’. Yet teachers egotistically believe themselves to be that important when the truth of the matter is that students think about their teachers very little, if at all.
Detachment and depersonalising mean to react in the most effective, cold, calculated, strategic and even somewhat psychopathic manner.
Think of your work as a professional practice with your students as your clients and most importantly, yourself as a professional. Detachment and depersonalising mean to react in the most effective, cold, calculated, strategic and even somewhat psychopathic manner. Instead of reacting with rage or disappointment, react like a computer and make a precision calculation. A computer never gets offended – it simply processes the input provided to it and coldly returns an output.
Here is an example conversation:
If you’re working in a challenging school, reacting with option 1 would see your mental health plummet in no time – your career would be very short lived. Obviously, option 2 is preferred – like water off a duck’s back the teacher shrugs off the attack and sees it for what it is – the student is not trying to offend the teacher but communicate their frustration. Notice how with option 2 the teacher does the right thing by attempting to delay and deal with the incident privately. Dealing with issues privately (as opposed to in front of the student’s peer group) means the student’s reactions are most likely going to be much less extreme. Teachers who are not taught to depersonalise eventually learn this technique from experience; unfortunately however, it often takes a few hundred or so incidents and many blood-boiling confrontations before the penny drops.
This concept certainly does not mean that you cannot (or should not) be caring, supportive or approachable – it means making ultra-rational decisions in often challenging circumstances that would send the average person insane. Trying to stay emotionally neutral in this way is not easy but there are ways in which it can be achieved. Start by taking a few breaths, pausing to think and delaying your response (e.g. ‘we’ll chat about this later’), and where possible keep stressful exchanges as brief as possible (Fields, 2004).
Hint: Research shows that teachers who were stressed, anxious, angry, offended or otherwise emotionally charged were less able to effectively teach, more erratic, made poorer decisions, fixated on particular students, were highly defensive and often reacted with disproportionate punishments (Wisniewski & Gargiulo, 1997; Blasé, 1986). They were also more likely to be disliked by their students. Detachments is a way of compartmentalising and managing negative emotions to enable better decision making.
Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2008). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Fields, B. (2004) Breaking the cycle of office referrals and suspensions: defensive management. Educational Psychology in Practice, 20(2), 103-116, https://doi:10.1080/02667360410001691044
Wisniewski, L. & Gurgiulo, R. M. (1997). Occupational stress and burnout among special educators: A review of the literature. Journal of Special Education, 31(3): 325-346.
Blasé, J. J. (1986). A qualitative analysis of sources of teacher stress: Consequences for performance. American Educational Research Journal, 23(1), 13-40.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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