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Dr. Fred Jones's
Tools for Teaching

Meaning Business:
Exploiting Your Power

This article is condensed from Dr. Jones' award winning book Tools for Teaching. Illustrations by Brian Jones for Tools for Teaching.

Meaning business is the low-key, almost invisible way in which effective parents and effective teachers establish and enforce rules. In our previous segment, we began our discussion of "meaning business" by examining consistency. In that context, we learned the "rule of rules":

Never make a rule you are not willing to enforce every time.

When we're consistent, we train children to accept that "no means no." When we're inconsistent, we train children to test us constantly to see if we will "crack." Ultimately, our ability to be nurturant will be a function of our ability to be consistent. To summarize:

  • If you are consistent, you can use smaller and smaller consequences to govern misbehavior.
  • If you are inconsistent, you must use larger and larger consequences to govern misbehavior.

In this segment, we take the next step in our analysis of meaning business by examining power -- your power. To lead, you must be comfortable with power.

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Have you seen these Education World articles...

...About Dr. Fred Jones?
* The King of Classroom Management! An Education World e-Interview with Classroom Management Expert Fred Jones
* Preferred Activity Time (PAT) Is Preferred by Kids and Teachers!
* Tips from Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching



Power is control, and control is power. However, those two terms do not denote the "dark force." Rather, they describe who is leading and who is following. The person with more power leads. The person with less power follows.

There are, however, two types of power within us primitive power and social power. They compete to control our emotions and our behavior. Primitive power is natural. It is a direct expression of the fight-flight reflex -- that primitive response to threat that mobilizes our defenses. In social situations, primitive power is expressed as upset. Social power, in contrast, is not natural -- it's learned. Rather than being simple, it is subtle and complex. It is at the heart of leadership -- whether it be in raising children or running a business.

To understand how those two types of power compete within us, we must understand the fight-flight reflex.


Imagine that you catch some goofing off in your classroom out of the corner of your eye. Does it bug you? You are having a fight-flight reflex. The fight-flight reflex will raise your blood pressure. A room full of students can trigger the fight-flight reflex quite often during a school day.

Yet teachers who mean business rarely become upset. Rather, they remain cool, calm, and collected, even in response to goofing off. They have the same reflexes as everyone else. They just manage them more effectively.


The fight-flight reflex occurs in two phases:

  • fast (muscular tension)
  • slow (adrenaline)

The fast phase of the fight-flight reflex causes muscles to flex. We get tense. It puts us "on our toes."
The slow phase of the fight-flight reflex causes adrenaline to enter the blood stream. Adrenaline burns sugar and give us "nervous energy."

When we become upset, we look upset and we sound upset. We raise our voices, we nag, we accuse, and we get very defensive. Have you ever "flown off the handle," "gone ballistic," "lost your cool?" It happens fast, doesn't it?

When we become upset, we stay upset. It takes roughly 27 minutes for adrenaline to clear the bloodstream. During that time, your brain "downshifts" to the brainstem. Even with mild upset, you are in "survival mode." In 27 minutes, you'll be back into your cortex. Then you can think and reason again.

Now, let me give you a piece of advice about managing a classroom. You will do a much better job with a cortex. When you downshift, a classroom suddenly becomes thirty cortexes manipulating one brainstem. Those are not even odds.


The conflict within us concerning primitive power and social power centers upon the fact that you cannot do them both at the same time. Primitive power cancels out social power -- at least temporarily. That brings us to the most fundamental principle of social power:

Calm is strength.
Upset is weakness.

When you are calm, you can bring all of your wisdom, experience, and social skills to bear in solving a problem. When you become upset and downshift, none of that knowledge or wisdom is available to you. As the saying goes:

My life is in the hands of any fool who can make me angry."


To put primitive power and social power into perspective, ask yourself the following two questions:

  • If you are upset, who is in control of your mind and body?
  • If you are calm, who is in control of your mind and body?

You'll never be able to control a classroom until you are first in control of yourself. Before you can ever hope to mean business, you must be in control of the situation, rather than the situation being in control of you.

One of the hardest lessons for young teachers to accept about meaning business is that it is first and foremost emotional. Unless you can be calm in the face of provocation, your fancy management strategies will avail you nothing. They will be in the cortex, while you are in your brainstem.


The more skillful you become at relaxation, the more quickly you can relax in response to something upsetting. With mastery, relaxation can be almost instantaneous.

It takes only a few seconds for the concentration of adrenaline to build in your bloodstream. That gives you a brief window of opportunity in which to "put on the brakes." During that brief period, you can override the fight-flight reflex with a learned response. That learned response is relaxation -- the physiological opposite of fight-flight.

But how do you relax in the face of a provocation? You practice, of course. It's a skill like any other. For starters, you relax by learning to breathe properly. A relaxing breath is slow and relatively shallow. It's the way you would breathe if you were watching television or reading a magazine. It lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure. Your muscles relax, and your face becomes calm and expressionless.

Relaxed breathing is part of any training program that involves stress reduction. It is used in prepared childbirth training, yoga, therapy for anxieties or phobias, and the training of baseball umpires. Learning to relax is an indispensable survival skill for anyone who works in a stressful environment.

If you want to practice relaxation, go to our Web site and download the Study Group Activity Guide. Go to Appendix D: Breathing Practice. You'll start with a simple relaxing breath, and you'll end up dealing with backtalk. You can practice by yourself, but it's more fun with a few colleagues.


Emotions are contagious. If you are calm, you will have a calming effect on those around you. If you are upset, you will tend to upset those around you. Our objectives in managing classroom disruptions are two-fold:

  • Calm the students.
  • Get them back on task.

These objectives are two sides of the same coin. You must calm students in order to get them back on task. If students are upset, they will not be able to concentrate. If they cannot concentrate in order to study, they will find something else to do -- probably some form of disruption. That disruption will then become your next discipline problem.

Our goal is to make problems smaller, not larger. If we remain calm, we contain the problem while preserving ourselves. If we get upset, we become our own worst enemy.

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