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The Power of Affection


I love Cesar Millan. Even before I adopted my dog, Orbit, I was a devoted Dog Whisperer aficionado. If you’ve never seen his show, stop reading and go find it on Netflix or Amazon. Basically, Cesar takes out-of-control dogs, and flips them into well-behaved household companions in a matter of 30 minutes and with the help of some video editing.

At the heart of Cesar’s dog remediation techniques are the 3 essentials for healthy dogs:

  1. Exercise
  2. Discipline
  3. Affection


I’m actually doing a talk on this in Philly (Tuesday, 5pm, Silk City Diner) this week, but shameless self-promotion aside (come for the free flatbread pizza–if you chew loud, you might not have to listen to me), it’s incredibly applicable to classrooms.

Later, I’ll discuss each component at length. Today, I wanted to focus on the last one–affection. The most effective management days in my classroom occurred when I laid on the affection to start the day.

Whatever classroom reward system you use, the first 30 minutes–nay, the first minute–will set the tone for the entire day. When my students came in and I was tossing out criticisms like a talk radio pundit, our day immediately tasted like lemon wedges dipped in vinegar and rubbed with cayenne pepper.

If, however, I was showering them with positive reinforcement–be it stickers, high-fives, or new cars, our day immediately tasted like dates stuffed with gorgonzola, wrapped in brown-sugar-rubbed bacon, and roasted in the oven (45 minutes @ 350). And that flavor would usually carry all the way through until 4 o’clock. Yeah, long days indeed.

This is not to say that you should be extrinsically rewarding your students all the time. Excess is never healthy (especially not with bacon-wrapped dates). And you should always be careful to exercise and discipline your students first. Assuming you’ve done that, though, the affection part is key.

The foundation of great classroom management is building strong relationships with your students. In the end, teachers are salespeople, and just like you wouldn’t buy a vacuum from a jerk that knocked on your door, your students won’t buy multiplication from teachers they don’t like. And I imagine the same dynamic exists between teachers and their instructional coaches.


PS: Danny actually bought me my first Cesar Millan book–Cesar’s Way. I never read it, but it does look impressive on my book shelf.

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