Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools, Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

You Can't Make Me


Assuming you have determined that the student is truly choosing not to comply, the suggestion below may be useful.

You're the teacher. Your students are supposed to be working independently, and you notice a student who is off-task. Ryan is sitting at his desk drawing on his hand. You do the logical thing—walk directly to the student and quietly say, "Ryan, you need to get to work." Instead of beginning his assignment, however, Ryan looks at you and says, "You can't make me!"

Noncompliance—refusal to comply with directions—is one of the most frustrating and challenging issues that educators face, both in and out of the classroom. When a teacher or principal asks a group of students to perform a particular task and a student refuses, that student defies authority. This is a difficult position for all educators. Often, the automatic response is to stand up to the student and somehow make that student do what we've asked in order to maintain control of the class.

The truth of the matter is that "making" a student take direction is not within our power. However, we CAN teach students the skills they need to make appropriate choices, like following directions.

There are many reasons why students refuse to comply with direction. A student may be struggling academically and using noncompliance to mask the fact that she can't do the work. Or he may lack the skills to follow directions. Or perhaps the student is flexing her personal power. For each of these, a teacher would employ a different intervention. This article addresses noncompliance that feeds a student's sense of power.

Noncompliance and Power

If you have a student who consistently refuses to comply with your directions, it is possible that she is trying to exert her personal power. Whether or not the student overtly seems to thrive on the power struggle, your goal should be to give the student a sense of power while at the same time trying to enlist her cooperation in following directions.

Here are strategies you can try.

Ensure that the directions you give to the students are clear and consistent.

Good directions are simple, clear, direct, and businesslike:

Develop a consistent pattern of responding to noncompliance using Precision Requests.

Having a predetermined sequence for responding to incidents of noncompliance will increase your consistency and clarity of directions. In The Tough Kid Book (2nd ed.), Rhode, Jenson, and Reavis (2010) developed an effective set of steps that can be applied to most situations. They call it the Precision Request Sequence. Precision Requests work extremely well in elementary classrooms and can be adapted for secondary classrooms as well.

Precision Requests Flowchart

Create opportunities for the student to experience power in positive ways.

Make an effort to acknowledge and channel the student's personal power. Examine what the student is trying to achieve through his noncompliant behavior. Is he trying to gain status in front of his peers? Is he trying to be funny? Is he trying to gain your attention? Use this information to identify how you can give the student power in productive ways. Can the student assume a leadership role—for example, leading a task force of students whose goal is to solve a school problem such as vandalism? Can he tutor or mentor a younger student? Can he take on a job in which he receives a lot of adult attention—for example, delivering messages or papers to each teacher's classroom after school?

Do not make the student's assigned job or responsibility contingent on appropriate behavior. Once the student has been assigned a job or responsibility, he should be allowed to perform it regardless of how other aspects of his day went. If the job or responsibility is contingent on appropriate behavior, the student may misbehave just to demonstrate that this contingency does not have the power to shape his behavior.

Ask the student what you might do differently to make it easier for her to comply with your directions.

Meet with the student and let her know that you want her to make some changes in her behavior, but you are willing to make some changes as well. Identify several things you will do differently in giving directions and several things the student will do differently in complying with them. Pay particular attention to creating procedures that allow each of you to maintain dignity when interacting in front of the other students.

Ensure at lease a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative attention.

If a student feels that you like him and are interested in him as a person—not just as someone to be ordered around—he is less likely to engage you in power struggles. To determine if you are giving him at least three times as much positive as negative attention, monitor your interactions with him at least one day a week.

If you find you are not giving the student at least three times as much positive as negative attention, try to increase the number of positive interactions. Sometimes prompts can help. For example, each time the student enters the classroom say hello to him, or interact with him during some of the classroom transitions. You might set a goal of talking to the student enough that you learn something new about him each week.

Be careful to avoid using praise too frequently with this student because he may feel that you are trying to control him with the praise. Most of your positive interactions should consist of simply showing an interest in the student.

Summing Up

As educators, we realize the importance of compliance. Over their lifetimes, our students will be asked to do millions of things that they may not want to do. Choosing to comply (and having the skills to do so), will serve them well as adults.

By following these suggestions, you can teach your students to comply with your directions and help them change their behavior for the better.

For more information about noncompliance and other interventions that may be useful in treating it, see The Teacher's Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., by Randy Sprick.

For more information about precision requests, see The Tough Kid Book, 2nd ed., by Ginger Rhode, William Jenson, and H. Kenton Reavis.

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