Saturday, May 12, 2012

Finding Balance with Control

Control is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.  As a teacher, there are many times that I need to have control.  I also know that as an educator some of us need more control than others.  Sometimes that control manifests itself in the form of power.  Sometimes that power is used for a really positive purposes like organizing, supporting, encouraging, and inspiring others;  but at other times it can be used quite negatively.

This world of ours is made up of many different types of people who require different amounts of control.  And as much as we may complain about people that think or act differently than us, it is those same people that inspire us to be better at who we are.  What a boring place this world would be if we all acted and thought the same way.

I know for me I like control in many aspects of my life.  When I was deep into Ironman training I was the one who sent out the weekly e-mails with our ride or run routes preselected. Of course I took input/feedback from my training partners, but more often than not the final decision was mine.

In my classroom I like control too.  I like everything to have a place and I have many routines set up to help keep this order. I used to love a lot of control. Things had to be done my way because I thought I knew best.  But now a days my  control looks a lot different.  In my classroom I like organized chaos.  What that means to me is that I like many different things happening in my classroom at any one time.  I LOVE when different children are doing different things at the exact same time. But that doesn't not mean my class is out of control.  If fact it is quite the opposite, my class in in complete control and if you take the time to see what each of my students are doing you'll see them engaged, and learning, in ways that are meaningful to them.

But as educators can we have too much control?  I'm constantly trying to find what I think is the appropriate balance between control and too much control.  I want my students to be in charge of their learning, to be self motivated, to be inspired.  I don't want to be the teacher that dictates too much for them.  But I also don't want to be the teacher that runs a classroom so free that my students aren't working to their full potential.  Sometimes students need a push to take a challenge, they need to step out of their comfort zones.  Just like I feel we as educators, need too.  But where is the balance?

In my twenty years as a teacher I have worked with some very controlling and far less controlling people.  I know for me, a self motivated learner, I thrive best when I am not controlled and left to my own pursuits.  I strive best when I work with people that trust what I am doing and give me space to pursue my interests.  I thrive best when there is two way trust and when I feel supported.  In fact  the more someone tries to control my actions, the more I want to rebel.  But I wonder does the same apply to our students? Are we too controlling or not controlling enough with them?  Do some of our students need to have more direction/control while others are more self motivated and thrive best with little restrictions placed upon them.

Sometimes I wonder that as a self motivated learner, that I assume my students are that way too.  Obviously that would be my dream, but is it my reality?  I know that my colleagues are all different too, and just like my students some are self motivated, others less so.   Does that mean that if you're less self motivated that you need to be pushed (or controlled) a little more than someone that is more self motivated?  Or is it really irrelevant because no matter how positive the intention of the control is, the fact that one is controlling another negates any positive affect on learning.

What do you think? As teachers do we control our students too much or not enough? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Very thoughtfully written post, Karen. Control is a topic I have wondered about a lot this past year in and out of the classroom. I have always appreciated my district for allowing their teachers to find innovative ways to meet the needs of students and a multitude of ways to utilize curriculum resources. They understand our unique styles and celebrate ideas being shared through collaborative efforts. Within my classroom, in past years, I too Have been fairly controlling with supplies, organization of materials, and routines/schedule. Now I have stepped back and worked closely with Ann to empower our students to share their voice and control more of our day with their individual needs. We have decreased our control of their day to day learning experiences and increased our desire to be flexible. I think about how I like to approach my goals and new learning endeavors, and I like you am also a self-starter and motivated to grow. But as long as I am within an environment that facilitates this ability. By offering our students more personal control throughout their day, will it increase their overall engagement and success? How much letting go is necessary? Can students be equally successful in more controlled, teacher-centered environments?

    Still pondering, thank you for your words and perspective as they always help me process!

    1. Celina, I think the power just may be in allowing our students to feel as though they are in control of what they are doing (or learning) even if we are ultimately setting up an environment that allows them to feel that way. It reminds me of someone I once worked for. They had very clear ideas of the way things should work (you know the my way is the only way type) and so they stifled conversations. I have also worked for some incredible people who while had a pre determined outcome at the beginning of a conversation were able to allow us to come to the same conclusion without us feeling like we were being pushed there. A true sign of a good leader (and teacher) is someone that is able to guide, without controlling to move in the direction which is thought to be best. We need to keep our students involved in decisions about their learning.

      Thanks for keeping me thinking. As you can see this is a topic I'm not sure I'll ever really fully understand.

  2. Interesting topic, Karen.

    I, too, have thought about this a great deal. Yes, I am also a self-motivated person. When people try to control my actions too much, where I am constantly second-guessing my every move, I want to do less. I am less motivated to take risks in my own learning and to be my own learner. I am all about collaborating, as you are as well, I'm sure, but control which second-guessing myself and my work is difficult.

    I would think many students feel the same way. I know that my students like to have control over their own learning - that's why 100 minutes of genius is so popular with my 4 classes of students. Do some students require more direction? Absolutely. Do I control their topic or what they are doing? No, I don't think I do. Do I give them additional support that others may not need, yes. Do I ask them more questions to get them thinking, to guide their work, and to support them throughout their project. Yes, I do. Do I control what they are doing? I don't think that questioning controls them.

    I think it is the same with adult learners. People can support one another by asking questions, by probing lightly, by guiding softly - and indirectly. I think that if adults try to control one another it backfires.

    So much to think about and reflect on.

  3. I really don't like being micro managed and I agree collaboration is such a powerful way to learn and grow. You've seen what has happened to me with the amazing people I've met and I interact with on Twitter. I've also met a lot of people in our district there too and I love the real connections I'm making with people. But I think you are right in the sense that people (or our students) sometimes do need to be guided softly, and as you say indirectly. As said in my response to Celina, it's helping our students feel as though they are in control of their learning that is most important. Thanks for keeping me thinking, and for constantly pushing me too.