Channeling the Alpha Male

When I was thinking about writing this blog entry, I struggled with the title.   I kept wanting to say something like:  “Squelching the Alpha Male” or “Taming the Alpha Male” but it sounded so negative and counter to what I try to encourage in my classroom.

Anyone who has worked with a group of kids (or adults for that matter) knows that kids tend to take on different roles in the collective dynamic.  There is the quiet kid. There is the class clown. There is the anxious kid.  There is the kid who makes sure the teacher isn’t looking before pushing another one down.  There is the rule follower.  And a myriad of other categories that kids vacillate among over the course of the year.

And then there is the Alpha Male.  Sometimes there is more than one Alpha Male and sometimes it varies between the genders.  But there is always at least one Alpha.

The Alpha comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and can take many forms.  Something of a bully might come to mind at first thought, but the Alpha Male is not always.  He is, however, the most domineering personality in the classroom.  The loudest, the most assertive, the leader of the games, the one who speaks first and most often in a group discussion, and often someone who has trouble waiting his turn or hearing another point of view.  Others defer to him by virtue of his larger-than-life personality.  He simply demands attention of teachers and kids alike.

The Alpha can be challenging to work with and challenging to the cohesiveness of the group.  He can be bossy and overwhelming at times.  I always worry about the reserved kids who sit in lessons and listen to the Alpha Male(s), but don’t jump in with their own opinions unless prodded.  I worry that the Alpha sucks all the air out of the room and doesn’t leave any space for the other kids to express themselves and try on their own budding strong personalities.  I want to hear the voice of each child in my classroom.

And yet, on the other hand, I am also grateful for the Alpha.  Grateful that someone is shouting out the correct answer, that someone is getting the rest of the class to line up, that someone is coming up with an interesting project, that someone is organizing things at the peer level.

It occurred to me as I met my class this year and encountered a couple of these characters, that the answer is not to squelch them or tame them.   The answer is to channel their strong natures.  The world needs strong leaders who can rally others and lead negotiations and step up.  People who are brave enough to do the right thing.

If teachers can get these kids to use their skills in a way that supports and enables others – say, the more shy kids – to reach their own potential, it would be a successful dynamic.  The Alpha could possibly bring others up to his level and act as a model.

One of my goals this year is to do just that.  Take some of the Alphas and create positive leaders out of them.  Bring it to their attention that they can positively impact others and let them feel good about that.   It’s an experiment worth trying.

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