233. Mob Control

There are times when adults herd a hundred or more children into one room, usually an auditorium, to do one thing. Usually, there aren’t too many times like that, but when it happens, it requires different behavior management techniques. Some schools have found ways to make this work smoothly. The teachers and other adults speak words and establish rituals that prepare the children for the situation And some performers and other leaders have styles that capture the attention of every child, no matter how many children fill the room. In some schools, large gatherings are so common that children get used to acceptable behavior.
But the large group, in my experience, usually presents problems. Most adults are used to having most children give them good attention. True, some adults elicit more attention than others, some children attend better than others, and some reasons for attending are more compelling than others. But children who ordinarily have difficulty listening often have more difficulty when there are lots of other children in the room, and the situation can also test some children who don’t ordinarily have difficulty.
Not to mention the adults. Adults who work well with children tend to be more patient than the general population, but these same adults may lose some of that patience when faced with a large group of children. Yelling, threatening, seemingly random punishing, and other behaviors that don’t reflect careful thinking about children may prevail when adults are significantly outnumbered.
And sometimes adults who haven’t learned much about children find themselves in charge of large groups. An inexperienced or at least unskilled adult may be in charge of supervising a cafeteria or bus full of children. It would help to give these adults a few pointers, or maybe bring them into classrooms, or introduce them to parents. But more commonly, this doesn’t happen. These adults are thrown into what seems to them like an impossible situation, and are expected to cope with it.
I have seen and occasionally used effective techniques for controlling large groups of children. The one person who impressed me most was a storyteller named Jay O’Callahan. His voice and physical presence had gentle power. He could whisper to two hundred children, and the only sound in the room was the sound of his whisper. What children heard when they listened to him was fascinating. Adults in the room who ordinarily would have been on the lookout for problems were equally spellbound. If any child had tried to break the spell Jay had cast, peer pressure would have been sufficient to keep the child in line.
All right, so we’re not all Jay O’Callahan. But there are lessons we can learn from him: use a voice that requires children to listen, say things children have some reason to hear, and somehow, let children know that we expect (not demand, just expect) that they will listen.

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