There is a huge misconception that some kids’ parents are at home teaching them how to walk in a straight line and properly raise their hands while other parents are at home teaching the exact opposite. The truth is that none of our students come to school knowing how to walk in a line, raise their hands to be recognized, or conform with any other traditional school procedures.
So it is not as simple as some students know how to behave in school and others don’t. The real issue is that some students come to school understanding how to comply with authority and others do not. Complying with authority is a life skill that possibly could save your life. Those of us that understand how to comply with authority understand that the person who has the most power in a situation will always win. That’s why if you get pulled over by the police, you do everything in your power to get through the situation and be able to drive home. If they claim you were speeding, you just take the ticket and fight it in court if you believe it is not justified. It is very unlikely you are going to talk your way out of a ticket; however it is very likely you can talk yourself into more trouble. The same principles work in our careers. Your supervisor will win every power struggle whether they are right or wrong. Why? Because they have all of the power in the interaction. The key is even though they have all of the power within the interaction, you do have your recourse to be able to rectify or receive justice if you feel you have been treated unfairly.
The problem today is that we have a growing number of kids in the generations coming up who do not understand this power principle. Therefore, they are constantly bumping heads with anyone in a position of authority over them so we should not take it personally. They are not just disrespecting their teachers; they are most likely disrespecting their parents, cashiers, security guards, or anyone else who tells them what to do.
Even though my mother was a school teacher for over thirty years, she never taught me how to stand in a line or raise my hand. When I think back to my childhood, my parents taught me how to respect authority. They commanded respect from me and demanded it of me towards other adults. Unfortunately, many of our kids today are not learning this at home. Therefore, it is essential for us to be teaching this critical life skill in our schools. Instead of just telling kids that they need to walk in a line, we need to also explain to them why they should. The bottom line is that if you cannot respect authority, the likelihood of you being able to sustain any type of long term job or grow in your career are slim. They need to understand that this is why we need them to walk in a line and raise their hand. There is more to it than just because we said so.
So how do you teach them? Why not Circle about it? If I were to Circle about this topic, the first question I would ask is do you think it is it important to respect adults? Why or why not? Listen to their responses. I am sure that some answers will make you cringe but they’ll also provide you with some context of why your students interact with adults in the manner in which they do. The next question I would ask is if you know you are supposed to respect adults, what stops you? With this question, I am pretty sure some students will talk about how they feel they have been disrespected by adults in certain situations. If that is the case, then the next question I would ask is when you felt you were disrespected by the adult and you were disrespectful back, what was the outcome? Basically, who won? Did you get in trouble? The goal of this questioning is to get students to see how engaging in a power struggle when the other person is the adult, it is a no win situation because the adult has all of the power. But at the same time, we need to honor their perspective and how it makes them feel.
The purpose of using the Circle to facilitate this conversation is that when people feel like they are heard, they are more likely to be receptive to seeing things from a new perspective. Kids are no different. Remember, our students come to us as the best versions of themselves. Instead of approaching them as finished products who are not willing to comply, we should see each noncompliant student as a new teachable opportunity. Who knows, you may save a kid’s life or be the catalyst for a kid’s future successful career.