Jessica L. Moody

Questioning the Norm



Strategies for Classroom Management-For the Most Challenging Classrooms (Part 1)


I have worked in alternative high school settings in Southern California for 8 years.  I have seen it all.  I know what works and what does not work.  Control does not work; psychology does.  You Tube Video  Click here for a video Version of this post.

Part One will discuss What Not To Do
Part Two will discuss What To Do  


I was a Teacher’s Assistant in one of the most challenging alternative schools in San Diego County while I was going to college.  During that time, I was able to learn an immense about classroom management as I saw substitute teacher after substitute teacher fall flat on their face, cry, and leave defeated after a classroom of rebellious students, mostly gang members, ate them alive. 

I saw the manipulation tactics in full force.  The students switching names, seats, convincing the teacher of made up rules, and overall just taking over the classroom (the kind of classes the Substitute had taught in the inner cities, I’m sure). I have seen students cause teachers to cry and then the students play the victim and blame the sub.  In my experience, I have had a student throw a desk across the room in frustration.  I have kicked students out daily. I have been called every name in the book in front of the whole class and have had a few of them get so close to my face that I could feel their breath.   

I have also lost control over my own behaviors that the class was unable to resume. I have tried my hardest to regain some normalcy or control but failed daily.  I have tried everything for certain classes and left defeated.  I had this one kid, one that I hope no one ever has to experience, who had a diagnosed behavioral defiance disorder.  This kid was completely unable to agree or say yes or do anything that anyone told him to do.  That’s the kid I will never forget.  That’s the kid that I dedicate this post to, haha!  

So what mistakes did I make?

I tried to control, micromanage, persuade, bribe, anything you can imagine to get these students to behave and “Just do your work!”  But experienced teachers know that micromanaging students who are expert manipulators only leads to giving away control over the classroom.  So without further adieu, let’s address the strategies that don’t work.

  1. Don’t take it personally.    

It’s not about you.  It is not about hurting your feelings or making you feel bad.  You are a pawn in the game of “Let’s make the teacher cry so we can brag about it for years.” It is a game to them. You become nothing but a means for entertainment and wasting class time, so they don’t have to work.  

Don’t be overly emotional about anything.  This does not mean to be stoic and unemotional.  It means that once students realize that you are reacting to them, they will know that you don’t have control over your own emotions and they can and will start playing games.  These are generally innocent “I am not doing anything wrong” type of games but they will continue until they get kicked out or you cry, whichever comes first.  (Losing the emotional battle will most likely happen at some point, and it is recoverable but not ideal.) 

2. Don’t call out students from across the room or debate with them



Oh, I’ve played this game a lot.  It looks like:

Me: Gerardo, get to work.
Gerardo: Huh? I am working.
Me: No you’re talking.
Gerardo: No I’m not. *lifts up paper. See, I’m working. You’re interrupting me.

This is a very simple example, It could be so much worse than this.  The bottom line is that students of this caliber will debate about anything and they are most likely way better at it than you, they have more endurance to keep it going longer than you have patience for, and if you lose your patience then they win.

I call this The Rule of 2 Back and Forths. If you make 2 statements and they try to keep it going, stop it by giving them the “Because I said so” statement, the “Do we need to talk about this outside?” statement, or a variation of a “This conversation is over” statement and ignore the rest.    

3. Don’t have a power struggle



You will never win if you think that teaching is about winning the outward battle.  If teachers learn psychology with these students, we will either become the winners while making the class think they are winning or we will make ourselves crazy trying.  

Let them think they are winning as often as you can.  If letting a student get the last word every time gets them to be quiet so you can move on, then let them.  They will think they have won but you have been able to continue and finish what you are doing.  If you hate stopping in the middle of class to have a talk with a student, do it anyways.  Take the time that you need in order to improve the flow of the class in the future.    

The bottom line is whatever you pour into them, the expectations, the relational connection, or the time, you will get back only a fraction in return.  So make the amount that you pour into them over and beyond, so that you will return a bigger amount.  

This may sound like a drag, and the Don’ts are always a drag… stay tuned for the What TO DOs tomorrow so that the whole thing doesn’t sound all negative and life-sucking.  

Let’s review:

  1. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Don’t call out students from across the room or debate with them
  3. Don’t have a power struggle

Do you have any other DO NOTs to add?

Stay tuned for the TO DOs…


How to Ask Questions That Elicit a Response From Your Audience

like Tony Robbins does

Tony Robbins is not paid for being a motivational speaker only because he was born to speak, he has natural talent, or he is saying something new.  He may have a natural talent for speaking but without practicing the techniques used to appeal his audience, he would not be successful.  He could have all the natural talent in the world but without good preparation before he speaks, his events would fall flat.  Most of the time, he tells his audience things they already know, but overall, his delivery and the way that he makes the audience feel is what makes him so popular.  He makes them feel like they are having a conversation.  This is not just a natural talent that he has, but a skill that he has learned: how to effectively interact with his audience.  This skill has helped him refine his craft of speaking through building a connection to his audience.  

Many speakers might marvel at the way he can ask a question and get a useful and audible response from his audience.  Today while listening one of his clips on The Quote of the Day Show, Tony talked about what it means to be wealthy, and I was very impressed with how much his audience verbally responded to his questions.  Eliciting audience response is not easy nor does it happen randomly.  It is a skill that Tony has learned, and we can, too.  

Has there been any time when you have asked a question to an audience that you desired a response from and the person or audience assumed that it was a rhetorical question and did not respond?  Why do you think that might have happened?

Four things to think about when planning ways to interact with an audience:


  1. What is the purpose of your desired interaction?
  • Are you trying to check whether the audience is engaged, check for understanding or are you ready to move on to a new subject?




Tony makes statements like, “All those who want wealth, say ‘I’.” Then they respond.  This is a strategy that he uses to ensure that the audience is still with him and they feel like have moved from being spoken to to being a part of the conversation.  It could also be a way to keep the speaker on track, motivated, and moving forward.

Or You could be looking around, seeing glassy eyes and feeling like you are losing their attention.  This is the perfect opportunity to say something like, “Who’s with me?”  Note: You can use this to pump them up if you repeat it until you have a loud response. 


  • Are you trying to get them to make a personal connection so that it gives them the feeling of a deeper connection to you or the topic?


When an audience is given time to think about how the topic applies to their own lives, it makes them feel like they have had an interaction with you.  It makes them feel like you have listened to their part of the story.  Do not be afraid of the pregnant pause that Lisa Nichols talks about.  It is an effective tool to use to connect to your audience.

You could do this by asking a rhetorical question.  It could sound like, “Who has ever felt like this before?” Or “Think about a time when you have felt this way.”  If at all possible, let them have 5 minutes to tell their story out loud to their neighbor in a group context.  If audience members are allowed to tell their story, they will buy into yours much more effectively.   


  • Only ask a question that you already know the answer to.


As a speaker, you never want to be too surprised at what the audience says or thinks.  The speaker should be at least one step ahead of the audience.  Make sure you ask a question that you already have an idea of what the audience might say or think.  If you are not sure what the answer might be, then take some time to ask a few trusted people to tell you what they would say or think.  If you ask at least 5 people, the audience member’s answers will most likely not be far from it.    

Even if you have asked them to think of a story where they have experienced a similar event, already have a hypothetical story in mind of what they could say.  You want to know what is possible for them to think to make sure that the question is relevant to your topic.  

I have been in classes where the professor has asked the students to discuss a question, but our responses were lead us in a different direction from what he expected us to say.  We did not answer the question the way he wanted.  This is not the fault of the students.  The teacher must word or clarify the question to get students to answer the way they want in order to achieve the desired thinking they expect.

The teacher/speaker is the one responsible for creating a question that leads into the point being made.  If the question is not clear or misinterpreted, the audience will be confused and lose confidence in the speaker.  


  • Train your audience to respond


Just because you ask a good question, doesn’t mean that the audience will know that you are expecting them to audibly respond.  We must train our audience to respond the way that we want them to.  

Use non-verbal cues: pausing, gestures, and repetition.

Tony pauses after he asks questions that he wants a response to.  As speakers, we sometimes fear silence.  We think, “If there is silence, then I will bore them, or they will have time to think about what I’m doing wrong.” This negative thinking is not true.  Pausing within a speech actually does the opposite effect.  When there is surprising silence within a speech it gives the audience time to think about what you have said, which should be exactly what you want them to do.  It also can surprise them and make them refocus their attention on you, as stated above.

If you are uncomfortable with silence, then you could just say what you want and know that they will say and gesture them to say it with your hands.  Imagine with me, you asked, like Tony Robbins did, Do people normally spend more money than they make?  An untrained audience might be silent for a second, but a trained speaker might gesture that you want them to repeat you, “Yes!”  After doing this with them once or twice, they should get the idea and respond more quickly. Finally, repeating the same activity throughout your speech will help them to get the flow of what you are expecting.

  1. Be Self-Reflective

Each time we speak or teach, we must take time to reflect on the interaction we had and how we can do it more effectively next time.  The following are a list of questions that we can ask ourselves.

  1. Did I use audience interaction for the benefit of the audience’s understanding and keeping them engaged?  Did it work? What are some things I can change next time.
  2. Were the questions worded in a way that they knew what to answer? Was there any confusion on their part or on mine?  Was anyone surprised about anything? What can I do to fix it?
  3. Did the audience pick up our cues?  How can we streamline audience interaction to get a more desired effect next time?
  4. Was this question necessary?  How can I make a question that is more impactful or interesting?  Can I expand on the interaction to provide a more meaningful interaction?



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