The ”I” message

Most teachers know that being firm yet loving toward students is not as easy as it sounds or taught in teacher training programs. The two acts are inherently paradoxical. Attempting to do both at the same time may communicate inconsistency and lead to further confusion in students. If not careful, teachers may give the impression that it is okay to be “moody” and be driven by impulses. This is not what “being firm yet loving” all about.

Most teachers are aware of this idea. Unfortunately, they complete teacher training without having had a role model (ideally his/her own teacher trainer) who demonstrated how this is done successfully. Often, teachers who know the idea attempt to use it, only to find out that they haven’t got a clue how it is done in real life, in actual classroom situations.

Source of answers

To really understand what it means to be firm yet loving, we need to carefully study research findings in the area of child psychology. It also helps to examine literature on effective parenting and appropriately transfer this knowledge to classroom settings.

The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau released a research paper in 2006 emphasizing the importance of fathers’ role in children’s psychological well-being and academic success. According to the authors who were commissioned to write on the topic, effective fathering requires that a father consistently plays the role of a strict disciplinarian, and at the same time, be calm and in control of his own emotion (i.e., anger and frustrations) and body language (i.e. his hands) in the process of disciplining his children. They added that “fathers who scream at their children, who pound tables, or who strike their children are destined to fail as effective disciplinarians.”

Further, it was noticed that fathers who modeled a lack of control over his emotion and behavior in the process of disciplining lost their children’s respect.

On the flip side of the coin, Dr. Arnon Bentovim, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, says that loving alone is not enough. He argues that children’s sense of security is boosted when parents consistently discipline them. Some single parents use permissiveness in an attempt to make up for the loss of the other parent. However, according to Helen, the editor of Consistent Parenting website, “permissiveness appears to have more negative than positive effects, with children often being impulsive, aggressive and lacking in independence and in personal responsibility.”  Both authors agree that insecurity is the direct outcome of the lack of firmness in parenting and failure of parents in setting behavioral and social-emotional boundaries.

A practical “starter”

One way to start learning to be firm yet loving is by practicing the use of “I” messages in the classroom. This is a behavior influencing technique wherein a teacher gets to clearly and concretely communicate how he feels about a student’s behavior, without losing control over his emotion and/or behavior. An example of an “I” message is: “When you talk excessively in the class (student’s behavior), I feel frustrated (teacher’s feeling) because I cannot focus on the lesson being taught and other students in the class (reason).

Because the teacher is given the opportunity to express his feeling about the student’s misbehavior and justify the same with a logical reason, he tends to be in control of his inner psychological state and its consequential behavior. The “I” message helps teachers to understand and feel (for real) the meaning of the concept of being firm, yet loving.

As such, “I” messages are good starters in the journey to becoming a firm yet loving teacher.

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