smart classroom management: why your class must be hard

In 1907, explorer Ernest Shackleton posted an ad that read:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.

He received 5000 applicants.

Although the veracity of the ad is debatable, there is no doubt that the lure of joining such an expedition was its specialness.

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s a longing of human nature the best teachers, coaches, and business leaders use to motivate and inspire.

Here at SCM, we’ve long promoted the power of creating a classroom your students love being part of, which causes them to want to listen, learn, and behave.

It also provides meaning to your classroom management plan and the leverage you need to influence behavior and awaken intrinsic motivation. Some of the ways we do this include:

Being consistently pleasant.

Teaching compelling lessons.

Shifting responsibility.

Having a neat and efficiently run classroom.

Bringing a spirit of fun to each day.

Prioritizing independence.

Removing rewards.

Praising only what is worthy.

Following your classroom management plan as written.

Each of these—including the hows and whys—has been covered extensively here on the website as well as in our books and guides.

However, one area we talk about but have yet to link to this idea of specialness is having high standards. We know it’s crucial for academic success to continue to ask more and more of your students.

Every day, every lesson, we want to push the envelop on what they can do.

Accepting no excuses and believing students can do and be much more than they’re showing is how a small few teachers are able to progress their class two years ahead of their peers.

But there is another reason why this is important.

You see, so many classrooms and schools have lowered standards in an effort to get everyone “caught up,” especially in the shadow of the pandemic lockdowns. But doing so has an unintended but profoundly deleterious effect:

It makes school ordinary. And kids don’t like ordinary. None of us do. It inspires nothing. It makes even the idea of it exhausting. Unremarkable, mediocre, boring, easy, lazy, slow, soul crushing.

Is this what you want for your own life?

What I’m suggesting, and have discovered in my decades here at SCM and in the classroom, is that making each day difficult, a challenge, all by itself, is highly attractive. It’s what students really want.

The truth is, you should never lower standards, for any reason. You should never give unlimited time for assignments, dumb down your curriculum, or pass along students unearned.

Instead, you must make it harder.

Exclusivity through striving and pushing and expecting more, and never being satisfied, is not only key to their success and improvement, it’s highly appealing. It makes them love your class even more.

It provides meaning and self worth. It produces pride and confidence and discipline. It gives them something they’re unlikely getting anywhere else: The feeling of belonging to something remarkable and knowing that they have a higher purpose.

Your own ad might read:

Students wanted for great challenge. Hard work, deep focus, long hours of learning. Public recognition doubtful. Future rewards assured.

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