Bandstra, Alan. Beyond Control: Heart-Centered Classroom Climate and Discipline. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2014.
“Finally, the spirit behind our actions and words is closely tied to our beliefs and hopes.” (Preface, iv)
In Beyond Control, Alan Bandstra writes in a style that is similar to an engaging memoir. Rather than taking the textbook approach of citing constant references to the work of others, the author takes us on a journey of his life as a teacher—warts and all. As he does so, he engages and enlarges perspectives on a Christian approach to the topic of discipline in the classroom. Bandstra draws significant attention to the quote above as we journey with him through the pages of this book.
Engaging the inescapable themes of classroom climate, community, and grace, Bandstra has presented not simply a different kind of discipline or classroom management strategy, but a different kind of teacher. Bandstra considers a Christian “climate” in which the virtues of the heart, the cultivation of community, and the grace of discipline become present in the daily service of the teacher. It soon becomes evident that being present is more than allegiance to a good idea or high aspirations in a room with desks, chairs, and students in it. It begins with an examined attitudinal stance, and it doesn’t matter where you teach, be it public or private.
Bandstra’s book is presented in three parts. In part 1 of the book, Bandstra begins by exploring the negative aspects of reward and punishment as these would apply to a change of heart, or a significant reason to learn. He frames aspects of reward and punishment as forms of manipulation that are unable to accomplish two desired ends. First, reward or punishment does not provide a reason to learn that is intrinsically motivating, and second, such manipulation generates a pattern of treating students like pets to be rewarded or punished. In effect, manipulation results in an alternate end—behavioristic classroom management. In so doing, manipulation (whether positive or negative) overlooks personal, heart-centered goals for human flourishing.
Broken humans cannot be “fixed” by rules. Rules make no one righteous. Bandstra suggests instructional teaching is more helpful than manipulation. He presents a teaching model for discipline that “disciples students.” This model assists students in seeing the consequences of their actions, and provides them with the opportunity to change their behaviors. The model emerges from a classroom climate of care, where gentle but honest correction occurs. Students focus on what they need to know within natural consequences of life rather than what they deserve for flawed and broken behavior. However, Bandstra is clear in saying no teacher can change a student’s heart. His examples from experience reinforce this well.
Part 2 of the book stresses that no part of teaching is more important than the positive relationships between the teacher and the students. This is the foundation for his view of heart-centered teaching. This view requires the teacher to move past the idea of being popular with students—a pitfall of the educational life, especially as this would apply to early career teaching.
Christina Belcher is professor of education at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.