Book by Heather Davis, Jessica Summers & Lauren Miller
Review by Brenda L. Banks
School of Music
University of Washington
What can academic advisors in higher education learn from K-12 classroom management theory? Many of us now agree that “advising is teaching,” but we usually advise our adult students individually; we generally don’t need to manage children in groups. However, like K-12 teachers, we do occasionally encounter what the authors of this book call a “noninviting” or difficult student whose (mis)behavior disrupts the learning environment. You know: the student who sullenly challenges your authority or the values of the institution. The student who fails to follow rules and then blames you for her failure or who apologizes but doesn’t learn anything and so repeats the behavior later with the same results. The student whose issues are never easy. The question raised here is: must our relationships with such students be permanently unpleasant? Or is it possible to develop these relationships while teaching these students to navigate more skillfully through their college experience and to get along better with others?
What Davis et al. term a “humanistic management orientation” in the classroom – i.e., encouraging students to self-regulate their behavior and thereby develop better coping and social skills – recalls theories of developmental advising, with which we seek to grow college students’ problem solving skills instead of fixing their problems for them. Moreover, Davis et al.’s distinction between “growth beliefs” and “destiny beliefs” in our teacher/student relationships calls to mind something recently highlighted on NACADA’s Advising Theory Listserve: Carol Dweck’s concept of a “growth mindset” as a perspective that teachers should encourage in their students while deconstructing their “fixed mindsets” – their unexamined convictions about the talents and abilities they believe they were born with. Just as we might urge students to believe that they can strengthen their areas of weakness and that they should not make doomsayer statements about their abilities, perhaps we can avoid viewing a relationship with a student as doomed just because it starts off rocky. Perhaps we can adopt a relationship growth mindset ourselves as educators.
So if we’re ready to make this leap, we might then ask why some students act aggressively or inappropriately in the classroom or the advisor’s office. Davis et al. consider self-determination theory, which concludes if three needs are not met, a student may act out: the needs (which we all have) to feel a sense of competence, relatedness, and autonomy. This book recommends stepping back from a student confrontation to ask oneself: If this student is uninviting or disruptive, is it because one of these needs is not being met? Then how can I help?
In closing, Davis et al. remind us how numerous studies have shown that caring teachers (and, as we know, advisors) contribute in a big way to student success and persistence. It’s easy to care about most of our students, but this book asks us to consider whether caring is a static emotion (as commonly viewed) or a “process” – “something teachers do” (and can learn to do better at exactly those times when it’s not easy). This book provides concrete strategies for improving problematic relationships with difficult students, as well as a closing caveat that all teachers should be on the lookout for signs of compassion fatigue and know when to ask for help from colleagues. To be a caring teacher is hard work.
Mindset. 2006-2010. Dweck, C. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html.
An Interpersonal Approach to Classroom Management: Strategies for Improving Student Engagement
(2012). Book by Heather Davis, Jessica Summers & Lauren Miller. Review by Brenda L. Banks
. Corwin, 256 pp., $27.95, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1412986731