Consistency or Flexibility?

As a student, one of the things I hated most was when a teacher would say one thing and then do something else.

In college I was incensed and outraged when one of my professors added an assignment that wasn’t on the syllabus. “She said our grade was going to be based on five papers and two tests,” I complained to my friends. “Now she adds in another assignment. It’s not fair!”

In high school, I hated it when a teacher would fail to enforce a rule or policy.

In high school, I hated it when a teacher would fail to enforce a rule or policy. Like the time my Spanish teacher threatened lunch detention for anyone who arrived late to class. So I went out of my way to arrange to keep my books in a friend’s locker so I could make it in time. And then she didn’t give detention to anyone who was late. I was angry and lost all respect for her.

As a young child, if my teacher said something and didn’t do it, I felt betrayed.

As a young child, if my teacher said something and didn’t do it, I felt betrayed. Mr. Nicolas said we were going get to do an art project on Tuesday, but when Tuesday rolled around, there was no art project. He lied to me! How could I ever trust him again?

Fast forward to me as a teacher. Do I always do everything I say I’m going to do? No, I don’t.

Fast forward to me as a teacher. Do I always do everything I say I’m going to do? No, I don’t. Sometimes I’m not allowed to do the thing I said I was going to do. Or sometimes I realize it really wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe I made a threat out of anger. Maybe I ran out of time. Maybe I tried it, and it wasn’t working.

But yet… Our students need to be able to count on us, and consistency is a crucial way to build trust. So how can we balance the need for flexibility with the need for consistency? In other words, when is it okay to change your mind, and when do you need to stand your ground?

It’s important to model for our students that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world and that sometimes we need to cut our losses and move on.

I believe you need to change your mind if you realize you made a mistake, particularly if your mistake involves impulsiveness, anger, or just plain old miscalculation. In fact, it’s important to model for our students that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world and that sometimes we need to cut our losses and move on. Apologize if necessary, explain your thinking, and lay out your new plan. And then make every effort to be gentle when your students make a mistake that involves impulsiveness, anger, or just plain miscalculation. Use it as a teachable moment. We’re all learning, right?

Sometimes students will test the limits to see if we mean what we say. When they do this, they are really asking, “Can I trust you?”

On the other hand, we should stand our ground if the decision is a good one, but we are getting pressure from students, parents, or others. Change can be hard, and learning new skills takes time. Sometimes students will test the limits to see if we mean what we say. When they do this, they are really asking, “Can I trust you?” We need to show them that they can by following through with what we said we would do.

How do you balance the need for consistency with the need for flexibility? Please leave a comment or email me with your suggestions and thoughts.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina@AwesomeTeacherNation.com

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