‘No-Nonsense Classrooms Where Teachers Don’t Say Please’

Jan 11, 2016 | by Janice Smith

This article showed up on Facebook today, and a friend asked for thoughts from her educator friends.  After you take a look, it will probably come as no surprise that a variety of responses came in, including some of disgust, as her friends read about ‘No-Nonsense’ teaching.  I hesitated to respond at first, as this is complicated and controversial, and not always easily understood or digested by those who have never heard about it before, or more importantly read any research on education and teaching best practices.  But another educator posted this as a response, putting a lot of my thoughts into writing:

As someone who has worked pretty extensively with children who have behavioral difficulties, assuming they will complete a desired action and verbally pointing out behaviors without value judgments attached to them are high forms of praise and respect in an of themselves. By saying, “When you sit in your chair quietly and take out your book….” you’re telling them you assume they have the ability to complete this action, which assumes their competence and agency. You’re indicating that the getting of the book is a rote, automatic action that they already have the capacity to complete and they do not need to think too hard about it. Using student’s names to point out positive compliant behaviors is a sign of of respect and shows you are paying attention, even to the small things.
By saying “Everyone, sit in your chair quietly and get out your books, please.” You are addressing no one in particular and phrasing your expectation in the form of a request that can be granted or denied. Kids have been trained to ask for things with pleases and often are denied the things they ask for. The kids now have to make a decision about whether or not they are going to grant a request, which is an extra thought process that takes time. You’ve used no one’s name and the kids don’t have those unconscious trigger that show you are paying attention to them.

I remember when Teach For America made a transition in their approach on this, and began asking teachers to remove ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ from their directions in the classroom.  It was debated amongst the teachers at my school in the same way this NPR article is now being debated.  The issue that keeps coming up from the opposition is the lack of respect it seems to have for students.  That teachers begin to sound robotic, and classrooms feel cold and mechanical, and not warm and nurturing like we imagine they should be.  (Worth noting that I don’t know where Teach For America currently stands on this.)

So for today’s Video of the Week, I want to show several examples of this technique in action, which I think is an important part of taking a stance on it.  At Mission 100% we call this technique ‘Explain Everything’, though it’s also referred to as ‘What to Do’ in Teach Like a Champion.  The idea that we give crystal clear directions that tell them everything they need to be doing.  The more it can be unpacked into simple, concrete steps the better.  And like the article mentioned, it shouldn’t be delivered with any language that suggest there is an option.  And while I think when first beginning to practice and implement it might sound robotic, once it becomes solidly in your repertoire you can certainly deliver it with as much love and respect as everything else in your classroom.  Perhaps while we love these examples so much.

This one comes from the first day of school, when Ms. Hall is introducing the expectations for walking down the stairs.

I love this one as an example, specifically because of what he says at the beginning, distinguishing between different ways to say the same directions.  You can be direct while still being respectful.

This example comes from a high school class, where we not only see an example of giving explicit, direct instructions, but also taking a second to explain ‘the why’.  While important at all ages, I tend to find this most important at the older ages, helping to invest students by taking the time to explain WHY you’re asking this.  (Less about compliance for the sake of compliance, and being transparent with the reasons behind every request.)


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