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Why “Handholding” Is Bad Classroom Management

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Classroom management isn’t micromanagement.

It isn’t narration and correction. It isn’t guiding, advising, or praising students through every this and that.

It isn’t shepherding them like little soldiers from point A to point B.

This is handholding—which is a gross misunderstanding of effective classroom management. It’s also terrible for students.

Yet, it’s remarkably common.

In fact, most teachers and administrators consider the combination of these tactics good classroom management. After all, they can keep a lid on an otherwise unruly classroom.

But handholding severely limits social and academic development.

Here’s how:

It removes purpose.

When students aren’t free to follow directions and pursue objectives without your frequent input, they turn their brains off. Their very purpose, which is the driving force behind intrinsic motivation, is ripped from their hands.

Purpose, weight, responsibility, ambition . . . these feel good and are the key to making students awake and alive. They provide confidence and eagerness to tackle difficult challenges.

Take these away and you create either good little lemmings who brainlessly robot their way through each day or massively frustrated students, bitter over having their agency erased.

It creates immaturity.

When you do for students what they can do for themselves, you communicate loud and clear that they can’t. You tell them that you don’t trust them, that you don’t think they’re good enough, old enough, or sharp enough.

Treated like babies, they behave like babies. Their maturity level regresses because they aren’t given enough freedom to learn, grow, and develop.

Unused, muscles atrophy. The difference between a classroom run by a teacher who handholds and one whose teacher knows how to shift responsibility is light years.

It encourages learned helplessness.

With the teacher on top of everything, not only making all decisions but talking, praising, and ushering students through every lesson and routine, students lose the ability to think for themselves.

When the weight is lifted from their shoulders, they become vegetative. They go through the motions. Their mind drifts and daydreams. They check out.

And when it’s time to get to work on their own, they require reteaching, restating, reminding, and mollycoddling. They need to be personally pushed and prodded to take any responsibility.

They need to be peanut-butter-spoon-fed like a stubborn newborn puppy.

It induces boredom.

Without purpose, without responsibility and imagination, without freedom to try and succeed or fail, life becomes tedious. It becomes dreary and hardly worth the effort.

Students, in such an environment, either grow sleepy or excitable. They tune out or they look for more interesting things to occupy their mind, like tapping, joking, or poking and bothering the student next to them.

This is why you see so many teachers stopping mid routine or mid lesson to deal with yet another squirming student or interruption. This is why they look out on a sea of slinking bodies and melting faces.

It produces resentment.

Have you ever watched a sporting event on TV and the announcer talked so much it ruined the experience? Or been on a tour and the guide limited your freedom to walk and enjoy the sights without their constant chatter?

This is how students feel all day with a handholding teacher. They become so stifled and defeated and tired of being steered and baby-talked that they become resentful.

This is why the nicest people in the outside world can be so disliked when they step in front of a classroom to teach. It’s also why students become less and less motivated as the year goes on.

Too much teacher always equals unhappy students.

What To Do Instead

The fix isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s so much easier than handholding (which is an exhausting way to teach) that it’s almost like doing a different job.

It also results in happy, engaged, independent, mature, and purpose-driven students. The opposite of the above.

So what is it?

It’s to teach what you want in a highly detailed way, check thoroughly for understanding, and then shift responsibility in toto over to your students to do the work, perform the routine, meet in groups, solve for x, participate in discussions, etc, etc, etc.

While you observe from a distance.

There is a lot to this topic, including how to empower your students to take full advantage of the freedom (within boundaries) you give them. When you get a chance, please check out the Learning & Independence category of the archive at right.

We’ll also be sure to revisit this crucial principle of SCM in future articles.

In the meantime, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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