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Stopwatch Overuse

The most seductive part of Tools for Teaching is Responsibility Training, and the most seductive part of Responsibility Training is the use of the stopwatch. It is quick. It is powerful. It is easy. What more could an exasperated teacher want? Compared to clicking a stopwatch, the rest of Tools for Teaching is relatively difficult.


For example, Classroom Structure requires extensive preplanning and seemingly endless training and retraining of the class. It, more than any other part of the program, requires an unwavering commitment to proactive management. “Pay me now, or pay me later” represents a way of life. Similarly, Limit-Setting integrates many complex social skills with the constant need to relax and keep quiet in spite of the urgings of our fight-flight reflex.


Like all learned skills, the procedures of Classroom Structure and Limit-Setting are subject to that most brutal law of learning: “The only predictable outcome of learning is forgetting.” The first skill to go is always breathing, and with that goes our timing and our emotional composure. With a loss of composure teachers drift toward reactive management and nagging. Without ongoing feedback and retraining, the long-term fate of any staff development program is sealed for all but the naturals.


The overuse of time loss in Responsibility Training, therefore, becomes our “early warning system” for skill deterioration in Tools for Teaching. All management jobs that are not done preventatively in Classroom Structure are pushed down to Limit-Setting where they become “enforcement.” Similarly, all management jobs that are not done in Limit-Setting are pushed down to Responsibility Training where they too become “enforcement.” When Responsibility Training is asked to bear too much of the burden of management, it is transformed from an enjoyable tool for building cooperation to a form of nagging with a time penalty added. Its disposition switches from sweet to sour, and it becomes resented by the students. Hence, our saying, “Never use time to manage a behavior that you can manage with your body."


Tools for Teaching is neither a quick fix nor a set of handy hints that can be quickly internalized. Rather, it is a thorough restructuring of classroom management from the ground up. The good news is that it can be done with a reasonable amount of training and follow-through. The bad news is that it cannot be done without a well developed follow-through program. The ultimate success of Tools for Teaching, therefore, will always be a function of the quality of the follow-through effort at the school site.

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