Setting positive limits in the classroom 2 (authoritative versus authoritarian)

      This is the second in a series of three blogs I'm planning to write about setting positive limits in the classroom.
      Can you tell the difference between the words authoritative and authoritarian?
      If you can, which definition best describes your teaching?
      Below are both definitions according to the Collins Cobuild Dictionary for Advanced Learners,
      Authoritative: a person who has a lot of knowledge of a particular subject. They give an impression of power and are likely to be obeyed.
      Authoritarian: a person who controls everything rather than letting people decide things for themselves.
      Most of us are likely to overfly both categories for a while depending on the teaching situation and/or context.
      We may feel the need to be authoritarian when people misbehave or bully their classmates, for example.
      We will hopefully feel our own natural authority and be authoritative in any regular class where rapport has been built and the rules of the game are clear.
      However we choose to behave, it’s important to have a clear idea of when to set limits and draw boundaries.
      Limits will sometimes feel suffocating and may even leave us with a tiny space to circulate. However, delimiting the learning arena will protect the people who interact inside it.
      A teacher who is controlling a 100% of the time is bound to pollute his/her class with his/her impossible demands and expectations.
      I used to attend a class where the teacher had a lot of insights into her subject. She expected everyone to respond the way she wanted. Discussion was inadmissible. She never listened to us. Making mistakes was out of the question.
      We worked really hard to pass her exams. We ended up learning about her subject but at the expense of our confidence.
      As opposed to that type of teacher, a teacher who’s authoritative will be confident enough to delegate, to share ideas, to involve his/her learners. (S)he will clearly understand that setting positive limits and respecting those of their students’ will turn out to be empowering. Students will feel acknowledged and respected within a necessary supportive frame.
      “There is no way to categorize all teaching under headings; many teachers will find elements of each category that are true for them…However, this simple categorization may help us reflect on what type of teaching we have mostly experienced and what kind of teacher we see ourselves as being now or in the future” (Jim Scriviner)
      Have you got any anecdotes you would like to share?
      Many thanks! Georgina
      Georgina Hudson blogs by Georgina Hudson are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

      Average: 4.2 (21 votes)


      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 5 October, 2010 - 01:06

      Thank you, it's really nice to get a response like this! Georgina

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 5 October, 2010 - 01:18

      Dear Stuart,
      I meant what you said i.e- setting clear boundaries in the class is a positive thing. As Ms Darleana and Ms Terrone said, striking a happy balance is key to the situation and a challenge teachers need to face.
      I'd like to highlight the importance of flexibility in people's behaviour. That applies to what I wrote about the class scenario and also to the interpretation of Michael's ideas.
      I want to improve my communication. Thus, I choose to be flexible when I get and process feedback on my mind.
      Interpretations are subjective, so they're bound to carry a degree of misunderstanding. It's better to ask Michael himself what he meant.
      Thank you for reading my blogs and for taking the time to write this.

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 5 October, 2010 - 01:29

      Thank you María Inés for such a sensible answer.
      I haven't read Pat Wolfe's articles and now I can't wait to do so.  I'm a lot into NLP and multiple intelligences, so everything you quoted makes sense to my way of teaching and learning.
      I try to engage my students in the class in such a way that they work for themselves and I become just a facilitator in the performance of their tasks. To that end, it's vital to build rapport with my learners. 
      I completely agree with the idea that emotional responses can have a negative effect if situations contain elements that a person perceives to be threatening.
      "One thing is to be demanding and another quite different is to become a dictator" Thank you, your ideas are crystal clear and worth noting.

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 5 October, 2010 - 01:40

      Dear Michael,
      Your reply has definitely made an impact. I was talking about your ideas with my friend and coach Tony Rutter, who suggested lots of insightful ways of interpreting your reply.
      Let me quote what he told me:
      "Michael has raised a fair point about some of the hypothetical assertions made. Therefore, I suggest re-phrasing to e.g. where teachers have a preference for a controlling style of delivery, they can at times affect their classrooms adversely..."
      As I said before and as I wrote on my blog, there's no way one can classify a teacher into authoritative and authoritarian categories since we're likely to behave in both ways according to the situation.
      I'll remember to talk about people's style next time.
      Thank you again, Georgina

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 5 October, 2010 - 22:06

      Thank you Marcela. The whole point of writing blogs and getting feedback is exactly what you've done: enriching the experience of writing blogs by exchanging anecdotes, ideas, background knowledge.
      You've been most clear. I've felt the same as you more than once and I also think authoritarian teachers might stifle the language learning process in some cases, esp when it comes to teaching young learners or very shy or introverted people you have to be careful.
      I go along with you when you highlight that sometimes it's necessary to be authoritarian. I remember a student I used to have in one of my classes, who was ill-mannered and made classes impossible. She didn't leave me any choice. I needed to behave stricter than usual with her.
      As you've so clearly pointed out, the question is to rely on our common sense and set the rules.
      Many thanks again. Georgina

      sabrina scaramuzzi's picture
      sabrina scaramuzzi
      Submitted on 6 October, 2010 - 20:07

      Dear Ms Hudson, You've written a very interesting article. I've gone through all the comments and they've added a lot to the original blog. Great work. I'm a teacher and I always ask myself where the limit lies, I mean, there's such a thin line between being strict and being authoritarian. How can one tell whether we're being strict or controlling? I obviously try to assist my students all the time. Because of my type of teaching (lots of students, lots of conversation going on) I sometimes get the feeling I'm losing control of the class. Just to give you an example, I may be presenting a point and suddenly students start talking to one another. They're obviously engaged in the class because they talk about the class. However, when conversations overlap, I get distracted and when I get distracted and can't go on, I just stop them cold and ask them to pay attention to me or address their ideas to me because I can't follow my train of thought otherwise. What do you think? Thank you, I'm waiting for the third blog too.

      sabrina scaramuzzi's picture
      sabrina scaramuzzi
      Submitted on 8 October, 2010 - 17:21

      Thank you Sabrina. I have the impression you're setting boundaries pretty well. It's great to be able to be assertive with our students, you know, asking them to be quiet when you're presenting some point and to tell ss to feel free to interrupt if they can't follow you. When students talk to one another in the class and we're telling them something important, it's vital to let them know, they'll profit from that presentation and emphasize they need to listen. We could ask ourselves how we ask our students to be quiet. are we assertive? are we angry and let it show? I feel it's key to negotiate these things with students and look for long term solutions that benefit everyone involved. It's really positive to tell them from the very beginning "when I present language, I'd appreciate it if you could remain quiet because it's very important for you to learn those points. there will always be some free time/a break during the lesson for you to talk to one another and relax" Good job and I'm glad you're looking forward to the third blog. Georgina

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 13 October, 2010 - 22:29

      for taking the time to copy and paste the reply I sent to you via your contact details.
      I apologise to you if you wanted me to post my reply on this page.
      Thank you! Keep in touch.

      khalidfuad's picture
      Submitted on 14 October, 2010 - 10:49

      Dear Georgina,
      Authoritative: a person who has a lot of knowledge of a particular subject. They give an impression of power and are likely to be obeyed.’
      As usual your blogs stir a lot of enlightening discussion. I am completely against the pure authoritarian  style of  teaching that’s why I always avoid being one of those who are fond of exercising authority on class! I always ask myself this question “What will happen when it comes to a situation where an authoritarian runs out of all his controlling tools?’ Setting boundaries  and controlling misbehavior and bullying can also be done as soon as the teacher is aware of the psychological characteristics of his students and the nature of the educational situation he is in.   A mix of both styles is a magical solution for an ideal classroom management. This leads us to the idea of setting up a rapport with our students. What is the nature of this rapport and how can we keep this thin line between being authoritarian and being respected by students at the same time.  
      Thanks Georgina.
      Khalid Fuad

      georginahudson's picture
      Submitted on 14 October, 2010 - 17:23

      Dear Mr Khalid Fuad,
      I'm so happy to have come across your reply here! You have so much to teach us, thank you.
      “What will happen when it comes to a situation where an authoritarian runs out of all his controlling tools?’ That's an excellent question and I think it's definitely a good one to post in the teachers' forum.
      I have a lot of anecdotes as a student "suffering" teachers' authoritarian behaviour. I always got away with their lessons and tests because I put a lot into them and I was terrified of "failing".
      What I did notice is that those teachers, whose style was controlling, absolutely lost their minds (and voices out of screaming their heads off) when students spoke their minds. 
      You've made a great point. I have a huntch that the key to this question is to be assertive in class and try to find long term solutions in the face of misbehaviour.
      I'm looking forward to your comment on my third blog.
      Cheers! Georgina