Strategies to Avoid Power Struggles in the Classroom

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will talk about ways you can avoid having power struggles with your students during class. When students try to start a power struggle, it helps to recognize it so you can disengage.

There's Always That One

Some students like to test their limits, push buttons, and stretch boundaries. When these incidents occur in class, it can be a great disruption and cause stress to everyone. Some students are aggressive and confrontational, creating a difficult and tense learning environment. When a student is confrontational, it is an attempt to engage in a power struggle. When this occurs, it is important to recognize and avoid conflict before it occurs.

The Social Contract

Humans interact based on a sort of social contract. The social contract is a code of conduct that provides rules of engagement for peaceful and civilized interaction. Manners like saying please and thank you, respecting the personal space of others, and civilized communication like avoiding interruption or yelling are all examples of these rules that we are taught at a very young age.

In many ways, teachers are responsible as much for this kind of socialization as they are for academic instruction. This means that power struggles in the classroom present an opportunity to help children learn the social contract. These teachable moments can be difficult, but they are important to helping students learn social skills. Fortunately for teachers, the social contract is usually the foundation for a school's code of conduct, so that the rules are clearly spelled out for students.

The National Education Association provides a list of dos and don'ts for avoiding power struggles in the classroom. Let's take a look at a few of these.

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