The sidestep is a verbal manoeuvre that allows the user to easily navigate around a distraction. This technique lets the teacher continue with more important tasks (such as teaching) and avoids unnecessary interruptions to learning time. Use the sidestep when you are busy, in a rush, not ‘in the mood’ or simply have better things to do. How is it done? Imagine a student throws a verbal grenade in your direction – one which is obviously designed to elicit a response. The student has baited the hook and is now casting it your way. The teacher, busy with other tasks, simply sidesteps the bait. There are millions of ways that this can be done starting with the obvious, ‘I’m sidestepping that one’ – then continue teaching. You can add an ominous intention to follow up such as, ‘…for now’. Another option is to simply say, ‘nope, not now’ while completely ignoring the dangling bait, irrespective of how tempting it may be to respond.
Every now and then a student doesn’t just cast some bait in the teacher’s direction but throws it in his or her face. Students do this when they learn the teacher’s automatic response is, ‘out’. The teacher responds as expected, and the student gets to avoid work while he or she sits outside or has a chat in the principal’s office. In lesser instances, the student is merely attention-seeking and wants to engage the teacher in a back and forth dialogue. This is common with students who have a good rapport with their teacher as it is an easy yet enjoyable way to avoid work and pass time. In these types of situations, the teacher may choose to sidestep. To use an analogy, stopping a punch straight on requires a lot of force. A better, safer and much easier option is to move to the side, letting the punch glide past and run out of steam on its own accord. A strategic and delayed response is then at the teacher’s discretion.
Hint: The sidestep is commonly used by teachers to keep attention-seekers on-task by refusing to interact with them (and play their game). Often students will use humour because this makes it less obvious that their actual goal is task-avoidance and harder for the teacher to react to the behaviour without being seen as unreasonable – after all, ‘it was a joke’. Don’t be fooled by the light-heartedness and charismatic smiles from your socially-apt students and their allies – attention seeking behaviour is a behavioural issue no matter how you cut it.
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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