Tracey at Walking the Dog posted a bit ago about how great the group dynamic is with her current students. (And they do sound delightful.) She ended her post with:
I'm curious though: how does that happen? How does one group develop characteristics different than another, even though the members of each are very similar? Where does a group dynamic come from? Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
I've thought about this a bit, and I have a theory. The group has a bellwether.

A bellwether is basically a leader - someone (or something) who is cutting edge, a trendsetter. The term comes from shepherds putting a bell around the neck of a ram leading a flock, so the flock could be heard before they could be seen.

Tracey's kids right now have a bellwether among them, and that person is a great kid. And because that great kid is a leader, all the other kids are following that student in that positive direction. It's a good situation to be in.

Last year, we had a bellwether in my core. Ours wasn't the positive influence that one might have hoped, though. He was suspected of (or had confirmed involvement in) a number of things, some of which included being a gang member who was actively recruiting; committing three different felonies (going back to fourth grade - FOURTH GRADE!); cutting school repeatedly; being sexually active; beating the crap out of a kid in the bathroom; jumping up on top of desks and running across them while screaming at a para.....the list goes on and on.

In classes, when a teacher gave instructions, kids would look at him to see what he was going to do. If he was doing the work, they would do the work. If he just sat, they just sat. If he started talking about how dumb it get the picture.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked me and he liked my class. So in my room, he always did what he was supposed to and he'd actually harangue other kids into doing it too. "Whaddaya mean you don't have a pencil? That's so dumb. You gotta come to class with a pencil!" He'd shake his head as the unprepared kid would hunch down and frantically paw through a backpack. Or, "We started the warmup like an hour ago! You can't just sit there!" as the student in question would scramble to catch up. He'd even stay after school to do work that he was behind on (you miss a lot of work when you're hanging out in the park or having parties rather than coming to school). He had a pretty steady C for me, same in gym - Fs in everything else.

Around February, his schedule was changed. An issue of him getting the appropriate services. (Sounds so familiar....) He was moved out of my class. By the end of the year, he failed every single class. I was sorry to lose him, and not just because he was actually fairly successful in my class. As that bellwether, he'd had a lot of influence on the other students who were so desperate for his approval. When he left, it took us a good couple months to get back to the point where everyone did what they needed to do - at first, they were all just terribly confused.

One kid can change everything. It's nice when they start out as a good influence, but you at least gotta figure out who that one kid is and get them on your side.


Joan said...

You might be on to something. I do know last year I had a few strong kids who were positive, successful and really well liked. My class was awesome! This year, I do not have that. My successful kids are pretty quiet and shy, move in their own circles and stay away from conflict and trouble. The strong personalities are toughies, some good ones, some real challenges. The dynamic is so different from last year.

teachin' said...

My school's very into looking at student academic needs to determine roots of behavior, and while I don't disagree with that, I do think sometimes there's more to it than that, and this might be part of the explanation. Would I be able to convince my admin? Not sure. But I'll try if I think the new classes we're getting have a bad mix of kids!

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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