Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The “45% Rule” – Enhancing your classroom “Presence”

normal curve The ability of a teacher to effectively engage a class is somewhat dependant on establishing a level of mutual respect.  Students respect the teacher’s role as head of the class.  Teachers respect the role of the student as developing learners.  This, obviously, is an  oversimplification of the relationship between student and teacher, but it helps describe the basic conditions from which an engaging and effective learning environment emerges.

One quality I have noticed about teachers who are adept at establishing this environment is their ability to exhibit a “presence” in class.  This “presence” is hard to define.  It is similar to the description of pornography given by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart - “I know it when I see it.”

Therefore, I have taken this difficult situation and reflected on a method by which to examine the level of “presence” a teacher brings to the class.  Based on these reflections, I offer what I call the 45% rule.  This method may be useful for those who are searching for a frame of mind to take into their classrooms to enhance their “presence.”

The 45% rule states that:

Teachers who assume their students own about 45% of any factor that leads to the creation of an effective classroom environment will be more effective in establishing a “presence” and culture of mutual respect. 

For example, the level of understanding of any topic discussed begins with the assumption that students already “get” 45% of the topic or when designing expectations for behavior, students will completely buy into 45% of the plan right away.  The starting assumption is 45% students 55% teacher.

The 45% figure, quite honestly, was not derived scientifically.  It is purely a number that is both easy to remember and also appropriate to setting the stage for an effective relationship between teacher and student.  The logic behind the 45% rule is explained below.  If we assume the range of possible combinations of student-teacher influence on environment is similar to the distribution of a normal curve, then a ratio of …

10% students: 90% teacher

…establishes a very autocratic environment in which student input is minimized.  This is akin to an extreme of the more traditional classroom model with the teacher being in absolute control.  Students respect the teacher in as much as the teacher is in charge, but this respect is superficial and based solely on formal roles and inherent power.  The teacher, whether he recognizes this or not, has little respect for the students, and exhibits this lack of respect by assuming the students to be mostly ignorant and dependent on her lesson for knowledge.

30% student: 70% teacher

…is a false sense of student respect.  The teacher has a few methods that appear to be respectful of students, but these are done only for the sake of being able to say, “Here are examples of how much I respect the students.”  Students are led to believe they have real influence, but soon realize they do not.  In the long run, teacher credibility is questioned after students no longer engage in meaningless and superficial exercises to establish the class culture.

50% student: 50% teacher

…is too finite to maintain long term.  This situation leaves no room for situations that tend to move away from perfect equilibrium.  There can be no grey areas because to have any, by definition, eliminates the balance of influence.  I also find these compromises theoretically acceptable, but not practical.  Every factor would need an equal and opposite factor to maintain the balance and that cannot be sustained.

70% student: 30% teacher

…establishes a major voice for students, but at the cost of minimizing the teacher.  While the teacher is involved, her influence is minimal and likely isolated to factors the students chose not be influence.  Respect is great for students, but students are still unsure of where the teacher stands.  Manipulated classroom environments with the mirage of appropriate balance is present.

90% student: 10% teacher

…creates an environment in which the students are determining practically all factors of classroom environment.  The teacher is minimized, and not in a positive/productive manner.  This class borders on becoming directionless because there is no constant factor (the teacher) to guide and focus efforts on any common element.  The students probably “like” this class, but they will also indicate a low level of professional respect for the teacher, whom they look to for guidance, and find little.

The 45% Rule

After examining the ranges above, I am drawn to suggest a marker that assumes appropriate student influence yet leaves enough for the teacher to affirm the distinct roles of teacher and student.  Students may not always admit it, but they like and need the teacher to have a “presence” – confident, purposeful, and respectful.  Teachers assuming 45% of students are assuming much more than blank slates without overestimating.  The 45% rule leaves no doubt that the teacher is setting the course and guiding the class, but the students are active and engaged in the process.  Respect is mutual and appropriate because each has roles in the creation of the classroom environment that respect and recognize the distinct values each group (student and teacher) brings into the situation.

If you are looking for a tip on how to enhance your classroom “presence” for the purpose of creating a respectful and productive environment, try shifting your assumptions about students to the 45% rule.  If you do, let me know how it worked for you.

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