Thursday, July 10, 2008

An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent

One of the things that first attracted me to teaching fencing was also one of the first things I learned to do.

I feel a little like a magician giving away secrets here, but it's important enough that I'll take that chance. It's such a simple and obvious thing once you know it, that it hardly qualifies as a "trick."

That gymnasium full of patient, quiet, respectful children.

The master has been asked, more than once, "What do you do about behavioral problems? How do you handle them?"
His answer?
"We don't have any."

How is that possible?

It's simple.

Clearly communicated expectations.

Children- most people- prefer to know what is expected of them, upfront.
So tell them.

They key is this:

1. Never make a rule you don't need.
2. Never make a rule you don't enforce.

And then, clearly state each rule in the very first class.

But there's more. The other half of the equation.

Enforcing the rules.

This is the part that makes it work.
Enforce the rules, every time, immediately, without anger.
If someone breaks a rule, they sit out. The first time. No second chances.
After they have had time to reconsider their actions, invite them to rejoin the group, if they are ready to do so.

Once the class discovers that you mean what you say - and it won't take long, especially if your swift enforcement startles the heck out of them - two things happen.

One is that they respect the rules. And in this business, using weapons, that's critically important, for safety reasons.
The other is that they respect YOU. Equally important, and also for safety reasons.

Set this up correctly, and you will not have behavioral problems.

Funny thing... it works just as well at home. Only rules that are necessary, communicated clearly, and enforced rationally. Make sure everyone knows both what is expected of them, and what they can expect from you. Then do that.

If you fail to enforce the rules, even once, you will have done yourself no favors and will have caused yourself considerable difficulty.

There is a lot to learn about how to make rules, how to communicate them, how to enforce them, and especially what to do after you've needed to enforce a rule, but that will come with practice. Teaching, and leading of any kind, whether it's as a parent, an employer or whatever else, isn't about being liked, or being "nice." It's about respect, and it's about safety. It's about saying what you mean, and doing what you say.

Every time.

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