Why Sharing Control in the Classroom Shouldn't Scare You

Why Sharing Control in the Classroom Shouldn't Scare You

Breaking Down the "Us vs. Them" Mindset

Traditional teaching methods often create an "us vs. them" mentality, pitting teachers against students. HOWEVER, there’s one of us and thirty of them, so we need to change that, cuz it ain’t working boo.

Sharing control in the classroom not only alleviates your workload, but also transforms the experience of school for both you and your students, infusing teaching with a whole lotta’ joy.

I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy, but I am telling you it is going to be worth it. Here’s why 👉

Seeing Clearly: The Benefits of Sharing Control

Sharing control is a lot like getting a new pair of glasses; suddenly, everything becomes clearer, and you begin to notice things about behavior that you didn’t before. It’s because when you share control you begin working with the brain and psychology. Sharing control taps into three key aspects of human motivation: autonomy, belonging, and competency.

  • Autonomy: By involving students in decision-making, you address their need for independence.
  • Belonging: Collaborative classrooms reinforce the sense of community.
  • Competency: As students tackle their own challenges, they build valuable problem-solving skills.

When students feel valued, their input is welcomed, and they feel that they contribute, their brains perceive the classroom as a safe space, thus significantly reducing anxiety responses.

This is crucial because a relaxed mind is more receptive to learning and problem-solving. It is also crucial for decreasing disruptive behaviors that often result in restless nights.

Your role as a teacher evolves from authoritarian to facilitator, structuring instruction and fostering an environment to emphasize student voice, where students feel safe to express themselves and take intellectual risks. At first glance this seems like a lot of work, and at the beginning it is, because there’s a learning curve. But in the end it actually alleviates a lot of stress and responsibility.

Oh, The Benefits, Darling

Shared control helps mitigate feelings of teacher guilt and helplessness associated with traditional, and often ineffective, classroom management strategies. When students realize that shared control is NOT PERFORMATIVE but rather the culture of the classroom, they become much more willing to engage, wanting their voice to be heard. As they engage, buy-in and participation increase, while extreme behaviors decrease. This positively influences a teacher's sense of competency and reduces feelings of guilt and helplessness that often contribute to burnout.

By offering choices and involving students in structuring both the classroom environment and the learning process, you enhance student engagement and willingness to participate. Shifting the focus from mere compliance to genuine interest fosters an environment where learning becomes a shared responsibility, thereby significantly easing your stress as an educator.

 How often do students run out of school at the end of the day bouncing off the walls because they exerted no real energy? Because teachers do all the heavy lifting!

It now becomes part of the students' responsibility to keep the class on track by doing their part, in whatever way the group defines. Responsibility shifts; it becomes their job in the community to hold themselves accountable, while the teacher's job is to ensure that what students are learning aligns with their interests and includes their input. Shared control means the teacher is no longer managing the classroom; rather, the class as a whole is managing themselves.

The open discussions that happen with collaborative classrooms are not just about exchanging ideas; they're about building relationships and empathy. Such interactions can transform your perspective, helping you see students as partners in the learning process rather than challenges to be managed. This shift can profoundly impact the joy you derive from teaching. It also decreases the amount of negative bias you hold against students and their behavior, bye bye rumination.

Addressing Larger Social Issues Through Classroom Dynamics

Students with strong temperaments often rebel against high controlling and rigid systems, which can manifest as bullying or other aggressive behaviors. However, when these students experience a fair distribution of control, their motivation and overall psychological well-being improve, making them less likely to act out. 

Sharing control means that a student who bullies doesn't just answer to the teacher but to the entire class. Now, this doesn’t mean you put the kid on trial; however, the class gets to discuss how bullying impacts the community, and everyone gets an equal say in how the class should handle the issue. This is not meant to isolate the bullying student; you must emphasize the need for EVERYONE to belong. Often, the bullying student is starved for autonomy and belonging, and a well-structured discussion can shed a significant light on the root issues of bullying in schools.

Issues like poverty, community violence, and mental health seem daunting, but the classroom can be a starting point for societal change. By modeling shared power, you teach students the importance of community participation, preparing them to contribute positively to society as they grow. Ya’ know, like a democracy. While we may not always agree, it's crucial to prioritize what is best for the class rather than the individual. When we discuss this mindset, students will better grasp the benefits of the system. They will understand that eventually, they will be part of the majority, and through voting and open discussions, their voices will be heard.

By dismantling the traditional classroom power hierarchy, you teach students a powerful lesson about societal structures: success requires everyone's participation. This approach also challenges the debilitating belief that children are incapable of making responsible choices, which often leads to overcontrolling environments that provoke resistance rather than cooperation. An overly controlling environment perpetuates the need for more control, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. The only way to break free is to take a leap.

Reflecting on Our Own Roles Within Systems

A common objection from educators that I often hear is the fear of repercussions: "I’m the teacher; I'm the one who will get in trouble." However, we must ask ourselves whether preserving a flawed system is worth compromising our students' mental health. This reflection is crucial not just for our teaching practices but also for our overall motivation and enthusiasm about our work. Consider how your own motivation and enthusiasm are impacted by an overly controlling work environment. But when it comes to children in the classroom, this enthusiasm is not just about a job; it has much larger implications for our future and our children’s future. This directly influences how future generations feel about learning.

Sharing control in the classroom is about more than getting kids to “act right”; it teaches life lessons about cooperation, mutual respect, and the value of diverse perspectives. It teaches the value of democracy. It challenges us to rethink our roles and the impact we can have on future generations. The transformation from a place of singular authority to one of shared responsibility not only enhances learning but also transforms our teaching experiences.

If you want strategies and ideas on how to begin the journey of sharing control in your classroom get the ADHD and Neurodivergent Bundle. This bundle gives you concrete strategies for inclusive practices, ideas for discussions, and teaches you how to identify student needs and support them. Check it out HERE!

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1 comment

I am wondering what suggestions people have approaching sharing control at the begining of the year. I have typically done activities in which students discuss what they need to learn, and we discuss how we want to feel in our classroom and we write a class contract. In my first two years I made the mistake on not following through on what I said I was going to do and not setting firm and clear expectations and boundaries. I did not have clear easy to follow routines and procedures. My class was chaos, and students did not feel safe. I didn't know what to do. I feel so guilty that I created an environment where students didn't feel safe, or like they had a voice, and where it was so chaotic they couldn't learn. Both my students and I experienced trauma in the classroom. I am anxious about that happening again. took a break from the classroom and spent a year in a supporting role . I am going back to the classroom next year in a different grade level. My plan at the beging of the school year is to teach about what a community is and through consensus come to some community agreements. I will also think through every second of the day and come up with routines and procedures for every second of the day. I will ask students for their feedback and make adjustments as needed. I will teach and model expectations routines and procedures. I will be teaching 1st grade so any ideas on how to have effectively give control to 1st graders and facilitate a safe learning environment is appreciated.


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