You can’t make me

Many teachers have confided in me that, since students have returned to regular face-to-face learning in 2022, there’s been a distinct ‘Lord Of The Flies’ feel about them.

What they’re referring to is an absence of cooperative intent in the students and an increase in competitive behaviours associated with re-establishing a social pecking order. As one teacher commented “It’s like they’ve completely forgotten how to get along.”

This habit for power struggles is also translating from the yard into the classroom and an increase in students flat out refusing to follow teacher instructions or to provide any effort. Teachers I speak to are reporting a lot of “I’m not doing it. You can’t make me.”

The worst part of that retort is that the students who say this are dead right. We can’t make them do anything.

What these students are doing is inviting us into a power struggle. The mistake we make is thinking that the struggle is about winning. These students don’t need to win the power struggle at all … they just want to have it.

You see, there’s sufficient intoxicating power in being able to manipulate a teacher, in front of your peers, into a verbal tennis match and away from teaching, that the result of the battle is irrelevant.

We can threaten anything we like (detentions, phone calls home, notifying Principals, etc) and Serena Williams over there is going to hit that ball back with “I don’t care. I’m still not doing it!”

Instead of the tennis match, can I suggest you do two things differently when a student invites you to play:

  • Say “You’re right. I can’t make you do anything. But I care about your learning so much that I’m prepared to give you my recess time to learn it if you need it.”
  • Walk away. Get yourself off that tennis court.

What you’ll have done is reframe an uncompromised high expectation of support with just one word – care. Power hungry students can’t stand it when we care on them publicly … so do it! If s/he completes a task successfully just to keep the embarrassing care bear in the room away from her/him … good!

Nobody wants to play tennis with Serena Williams. You’re gonna lose and it’s gonna be in front of a crowd too. Better to not play tennis in the classroom at all actually.

Keep fighting that good fight,

PS. Are you a regional NSW school looking to fund a Real Schools Partnership? We’re doing some grant sourcing lately and noticed this little opportunity.

PPS. Are you interested in my June/July workshops in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, but would like to be sure they’re right for your school first? Come along to a FREE 1-hour online info session on these four spectacular events for Teachers and School Leaders on Wednesday 6th April at 3pm AEST. Book your spot here.


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