Buttons and the Kids Who Push Them


I had the great privilege of hearing Annette Breaux speak yesterday. She gave an inspirational, practical talk called, “How to Impact Student Achievement and Make a Difference.”

Over the next few days, I will share takeaways from her day-long presentation with the hopes that what she shared with us can help you reflect on your practices the way I’ve been caused to reflect on mine.

Annette told a story about a time she was late leaving her hotel to give a presentation. She was becoming more and more flustered as the minutes ticked away. When she finally got herself to the elevator, she hit the button and waited.

Only problem was, the elevator’s arrival time was not to her satisfaction, so she pushed the button again. Still, she waited. Finally, she did what most of us do when an elevator is too slow for our frustrated selves. She pushed the button, repeatedly and hard.

Needless to say, the elevator still took its sweet time arriving, no more encouraged by her final frantic pushes of the button than they were by her first. No matter how many times she pushed the elevator’s button, that elevator wasn’t going to indulge her. It just went about its business as it normally would.

In our classes, we need to make it clear to our students that we are like elevators. You can try pushing our buttons all you want, but the simple fact is: it ain’t gonna matter one bit. Like an elevator, we need to be impervious to attempts to make us arrive only as a student wants. We can’t let the students control us with their button pushing – imagine, as Annette says, what that would do for the others riding the elevator (ie. the rest of the class!)

Hiding my buttons (and not letting the visible ones be pushed) is something I have to improve upon. I can’t engage in arguments with the kids, nor can I allow them to take control of the class (if they’re causing disruptions).

So, I’m going to try to make it a point to smile more.

A smile can be very disarming. You’re banging your ruler on the desk? I’m still smiling. You’re refusing to take out your materials (more on that in the future, by the way)? I’m still smiling. You’re not handing in your homework today? I’m still smiling.

If we’re to be unflappable elevators, we have to firmly answer the challenges of our buttons being pushed.

Annette Breaux’s books are available for purchase here and she is also on Twitter.

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7 responses to “Buttons and the Kids Who Push Them

  1. I’m looking forward to your future posts about that talk. I love the “button” analogy as we all know what that feels like. Sometimes I say, “I wonder why you keep _______ even though I asked you to stop. You’re drawing attention to yourself. Is there something you want me to understand? I want what’s best for you, and right now I’m choosing to do ____ because ______. Let me know how I can help.”

    Thanks for keeping me thinking, Matt. It’s almost as if your classroom and mine are in parallel movement, yet our communities and schools differ in geography and probably culture (but I’m not sure of that).

  2. Although I agree with what you’re saying, in practice I’m not so sure. If that child banging a ruler is being disruptive to the rest of the class, shouldn’t it be dealt with more than just ignoring?

    • It depends. If the banging is to get attention, ignore. If it is subconscious behavior without thought, maybe it just needs a gentle reminder.

      • Any tips on how to get the rest of the class to ignore the behaviour? I have several students who give in all to easily to giving that attention to those attention seeking behaviours.

  3. I try to model as much as possible that that student’s behaviors don’t warrant my attention, and hope my students come to have the same opinion. Maybe you could make a video of the disruptive student doing all the right things and then s/he can watch it as a reminder that, Hey, I know what to do, after all.

    • I do something similar with Daily 5. I have a student who I know likes to show off model the wrong way and then the right way to do something. That way the student and the class knows that he or she is able to do it correctly.

  4. I like the metaphor…I would also add that we have to recognize that the students are like elevators too. No matter how hard we push on them, they will understand the material at their own pace. As a writing teacher, I consistently have to keep this in mind because students understand the writing process at different times.

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