The Power of One

Working together as a class team can overcome bullying behaviour.


Do you have a student in your class that likes to be the centre of attention in a negative way, bullies others, always ‘fishing’ for students to get a response, ‘catches’ teachers as well – ropes everyone in ‘hook line and sinker’ every time?

The following story retells my experience while teaching a Year 2/3 class at a school in Central Victoria. It was a stressful and difficult time but from it came the strategy the ‘Power of One’.


Going Fishing – The Marisa Story

The word went around the staff room that Marisa (Not the students real name) was coming back into the school. I wasn’t at the school when she had first attended.

‘She’s not coming in my room’ said one teacher, ‘I had her last time, no way!’

‘Well she’s not coming into mine either,’ said another, ‘I have just got my class settled’.

Hmm I thought, sounds like trouble on the way and guess what, it came straight to me! The principal came to see me and asked if I would please have her in my room.

Well, Marisa arrived and reminded me of the cartoon Tassie Devil from Warner Brothers.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 10.21.39 am

Warner Bros. The Looney Tunes character – Taz, the Tasmanian devil.

A strong murderous beast, jaws as powerful as a steel trap, a ravenous appetite eats tigers, lions, elephants, buffaloes, octopuses, rhinoceroses and moose. Whirls around like a tornado slicing through trees like a rotary saw and feasting on entire ecosystems of jungle creatures. This carnivorous beast will devour everything and anything in a single gulp.’ 

 Mrs C. ‘Marisa has pulled my hair, stolen my pencil, used my textas without asking, pinched me, swore at me, tripped me over, snatched my ruler, pushed my books off the desk, stood on my foot, pushed the table into my stomach, put a drawing pin on my chair, knocked my sandwich out of my hand, taken my drink bottle, thrown my hat away, Marisa, Marisa, Marisa! ‘

Something had to be done, fast! She was ‘devouring’ us all, seeking attention in a negative way and upsetting students who felt powerless!

Time for action!

What could my students and myself do?

I started with this. Marisa would bring some of her work to me scribbled on a torn up piece of paper and look at me waiting for a negative response.  I would look her in the eye and quietly and sincerely say. ‘I am sorry you have chosen to fail but I will never give up on you.’ (Thank you to Lane Clark –real. thinking learning assessment for teaching me this statement, I have used it on many occasions with great success.

I would then move away or speak to the next student waiting to see me by saying, ‘Next please’. It left her nowhere to go. This was not the response she expected.

She climbed out the window one day.

‘Mrs C. Marisa has climbed out the window. I pointed to my eyes and said, ‘ I have these too and I use them, please close the window.’

Thankfully Marisa walked around the school building, came back and stood at the classroom door waiting for my response. I said nothing, just kept on correcting some work with the students. She went to go out the window again and I calmly said, ‘Marisa can you leave the window down, it’s a bit cold in here today.’

She actually went back to her seat much to my relief!

I needed an action plan for my students to alleviate their frustration and anxiety due to Marisa’s interaction and behaviour towards them. I talked to them about her ‘fishing’ for a response. ‘Does she catch you every time?’ I asked.

‘Yes’, said the students. They always responded loudly and verbally to her actions, actually so did I!

‘Marisa, stop that, give back my book, ouch, stop it, don’t do that,’ and of course I would add in my bit, ‘Marisa go back to your seat, please stop that, give back those pencils now!

I planned a meeting with the students without Marisa being present. The assistant principal kindly took her and a partner out to ‘do a job’. While they were gone we discussed the problem that was happening and why Marisa was being difficult and hurting and annoying everyone. She was looking for attention. Maybe she was lonely, sad, not sure how to make friends, hasn’t learned how to approach people. (Marisa had a very difficult home life. I didn’t tell the class this bit of information).

We needed a plan, they all agreed.

The key was not to respond, don’t get caught! She is ‘taking away your power’ I said, ‘Marisa is controlling you, she wants a response and you give it to her every time, she wins. You have to keep control of yourself and not give it to her. Who is in charge of you, Marisa or yourself?’

This made the students think differently and I could sense that they did not like the idea of someone else being in control of them and catching them out.

‘I will have a little signal to tell you to keep your self in control, keep your own power, not to give it away.’

This idea really appealed to the students. My signal involved pointing my finger out like a fishing rod and wagging it up and down slightly pretending to pull in a fish. I would make sure Marisa would not see the signal but the students could and they would know that I knew Marisa was ‘trying to gain control’, to catch them like a fish on a hook.

When she comes and throws the bait out to you, ignore her, move away, keep on working quietly, do what you need to do but don’t give a loud reaction. It will be hard for you because Marisa will try hard to get you. You need to be stronger in your mind and actions than she is.

We also discussed being friendly when the opportunity came up, asking her to play with you, being her partner.

When Marisa’s behaviour towards the students caused problems they did so well to ignore her. They would glance at me and I would give the small signal so the students knew I was watching. Sometimes I just gave a just a slight nod of my head. The students were so brave putting in a strategy that worked for them – moving away, continuing to work, not saying anything to her, I would give them a little nod, or a thumbs up to say well done, you have won. I had to remain vigilant and observe and monitor where Marisa was and what she was doing.

(Students love this part of the story) Marisa’s behaviour did improve.  One of the best days happened at  3:25 and I had told everyone to pack up ready for home. Marisa continued to work on her task. It was beautifully presented, very neat handwriting, eye catching layout, ‘Marisa’, I said, ‘It’s pack up time.’

‘Mrs C. I want to finish this.’ ‘Yahoo’ I felt like shouting, I was thrilled. At 3:30 when the bell rang Marisa was still sitting there working away. I quietened the class and said to everyone how proud I was of someone in our class who had chosen to be successful. They knew who I was referring to and impromptu hand clapping started as the students gave Marisa a sign of their appreciation.

Now you will think ‘wow a success story, how wonderful’. Yes, but it was hard work and there were days when the students and I had to pull so hard together. Marisa was hot and cold in her behaviour, influenced by what happened at home but she did produce some wonderful work and make successful decisions most times. She was by no means ‘cured’ 100% of the inappropriate behaviour. We were battling against the home environment but we did have many days were things were calm as compared to every day when things were difficult, frustrating and stressful.

By allowing students to ‘keep their own power’ and not get caught made such a difference to the students and of course to Marisa.

How can you use this idea?

Seek assistance from leadership to take the student out of the room to ‘do a job’. Ask the student to choose someone to accompany them or you may choose to tell the story to the whole class including the student causing difficulties.  Make it a general observation that you have noticed students bothering others.

Allow everyone the choice to move away, to ignore and not get caught!

  • Read or retell your version of the Marisa Story or Chris and the Hat to the class. (Read on to locate Chris’s story)
  • Discuss

– Caring for everyone in the class,

– Sometimes students make things difficult for all of us.

– We are here to help one another.

– Talk about the sorts of problems that make us feel upset and stop us from getting on with work.

This is what we are going to do. Refer to the story.

We are going to do the same as Mrs C. the teacher in the story.

It’s important to care for both yourself and others.

We are a team.

  • You can choose if you want to keep the plan ‘secret’ from the student.
  • Sometimes ‘someone’ will leak out the plan. That’s ok. You can tell the student that everyone in the class is important and all want to be treated fairly and equally that is why we have a plan to help you and everyone else be the best they can be.


Things you might see:

  • Students moving away to work elsewhere
  • Students quietly catching your eye to indicate they are moving
  • Students discussing what is happening
  • Students taking control and making decisions
  • Students changing their behaviour

Often the consequences for a students negative behaviour in class involves sending them from the room, making them sit on their own, being sent to the principal for timeout or keeping them in at recess. Consider the idea of the ‘Power of One’. With a conscience effort from you and your students and working together, you can make a positive difference!

Another Story –  Chris and the Hat (Many students relate to this story)

Chris was always down on himself. He was in a Year 5/6 class. When I first met him he did next to nothing all day, was constantly acting out, rarely did I see the ‘Real Chris’ to begin with. When he revealed himself at times he was such a great kid with so much potential – a clever student making not so clever decisions.

He ate a bag of chips at recess and a bag of dry noodles for lunch every day, never had anything to write with, could never find his books, was constantly jibed at and teased by another student in the class who was new and had problems. (Allen). The students in the class liked Chris.

I started to make inroads with him using the ‘Writing Notes’ strategy and would see him ‘being himself’.

I had told the Marisa story to the class and it had made a real difference to the classroom culture.

One day Allen stole Chris’s hat, it was a constant ‘game’ of his. Chris was ready to chase after him as usual. I said to Chris, ‘Come and sit down with me’ – (we were out on a veranda of the classroom, it was the time students ate their lunch.) I said to him, ‘Remember the Marisa story. Allen is trying to steal your power. Don’t give it to him. Just sit here and watch.’

Well Allen was charging off across the grass expecting Chris to be in hot pursuit like he usually did but what a look came over his face when he looked behind him and Chris was not there chasing him. He stopped, looked, spotted Chris. I quietly told Chris to keep sitting here, Allen will be back. Sure enough back he came. I held out my hand and he put the hat in it. I gave it to Chris and winked at him. He got it. The ‘real’ Chris came back in after lunch and I passed him a note when he started work to say how pleased I was to see him and well done for keeping ‘his own power’.

Chris raced up to see me the next day, ‘Mrs C. I have organized my pencils.’ I was so pleased to see the ‘real’ Chris and what a buzz it gave me to know he wanted to tell me he had organized his pencils. It may seem like such a small thing but for Chris and myself it was ‘huge’ – he had made a commitment, was prepared to ‘show himself’ and show me that he was taking control of his life.

The message is to tell students about ‘keeping their own power’ and not letting others take control of you – Be Yourself. Tell the stories, put up a sign in your classroom, (The Power of One), refer to it, talk about it, see a change. It will work if you can get the message to your students.

Students want to be in control of themselves and because I was allowing decisions to be made by the students (refer to the Getting Started TWAF strategies), it worked!

Students would tell me at the end of the day how good it was to be themselves and not have to respond to others because they thought it was what was expected or because they didn’t realise they were ‘being caught’.

It also made the students sending out the bait look pretty ridiculous and they knew it because everyone in class knew what they were trying to do.

You have to live with your choices! What do you think you are winning?

 The, ‘it’s cool’ to be the centre of attention, to ‘bait’ others suddenly became something that the students recognised as a ridiculous way of thinking and acting. As one student said to me, “They are just being ‘smart Alec’s but they won’t get me again! ‘

It’s reason that makes a child responsible and responsible children find many reasons for right actions.