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Enforceable Statements

by David Birrow Birrow.David@MacPhail.org

All four years of college, I woke up Friday mornings and attended Music Education Forum at the University of Miami Frost School of Music.  This was a required, zero credit course that all Music Ed majors took.  Despite the lack of credits, it was an important part of my education. It was well organized and each week had a different topic and presenter.  There was always one session a year where first year music teachers came back to UM and gave us the sitrep from the real world of music teaching.  Everybody had different teaching situations and workloads, but somebody inevitably said something to the effect of "Your first year teaching, you are simply trying to survive." Or something like that. My friend Jim said something like "Your first year you are going to fall flat on your face, count on it."

Like all first year teachers I was apprehensive about managing my classroom and dealing with misbehavior. One of the things that helped me survive my first year was reading the book Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay. This book lays out a clear, logical approach to running a classroom and building relationships with students. It is based on child psychology and practical experience in the classroom. Note that I said approach and not system.  I can't stand classroom management systems that use cards, flags, sticker charts, or warnings.  They are too confusing for both teachers and students and often don't have logical, individualized consequences. Throwing a drumstick across the room equals a yellow card but using your trumpet mouthpiece to shoot spitballs only equals two red cards, and two yellow cards and one red card result in no recess, but two reds and a yellow result in a call home? I can't keep that straight in the normal fray that is a music classroom. 

What I liked about Teaching with Love and Logic was how simple it was to use. I didn't need to construct a big sticker chart or keep some sort of misbehavior log, instead I just changed the way I said some things.  One of the most useful parts of Love and Logic teaching is the use of enforceable statements.  This just means to phrase things in a way that you can actually enforce. Enforceable statements tell the students what YOU are going to do, instead of asking THEM to do something. Which makes sense, given that you can only control yourself. For example:

                   Not Enforceable: "Put your sticks on your lap and don't move them."

                   Enforceable: "I'm happy to start the song when everybody has their sticks on their laps."

                   Not Enforceable: "Stand in a straight, silent line."

                   Enforceable: "I'm happy to dismiss students who are in a straight line and silent."

Enforceable statements are ideal for music teaching, where we have many short, bullet point instructions.  Jim Fay was a band director earlier in his life, so maybe there is some carryover there. All this might seem like a matter of semantics, but it really does make sense. If a student understands the limits in the classroom and how you are running your life, they might end up making the decision themselves, which in turn could lead to a more competent human being. If they understand their environment, they can make better choices for themselves.

This also helps when students misbehave on purpose for attention. Instead of yelling at the student to get in line, you simply repeat to the student how you are running your classroom.  Now there is much more to Love and Logic teaching, but this seemed like a good place to start after reading Sarah Olson's excellent post last week.  Here is a list of examples from Jim Fay, he refers to it as "turning your words into gold."


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