3 Ways Morpheus Would Challenge Bad Behaviour in Your Classroom
Updated: Jun 29
The 1999 sci-fi classic that introduced us to Bullet Time, the Red Pill, leather dusters and armless sunglasses.
This movie classic sits on the top 10 lists of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever made. And was the cause of many 90s kids buying this ugly banana phone, the Nokia 8110 - ew.
The story charts the journey of Keanu Reeves’ 'Neo' - a superhuman messiah figure who fights an evil artificial intelligence that enslaved humans in a virtual reality prison.
Look, you’ve watched the film and you know what I mean. 🤓
Neo’s mentor is Morpheus played by Laurence Fishburne - half philosopher, half badass who helped Neo become ‘The One.’
In this week’s blogpost, Morpheus will help you become the Neo of your classroom. Using his most famous quotes, I will teach you 3 tricks that Morpheus would approve of, which include:
1) Why you must have a structure in your classroom and how to enforce them once they are breached.
2) How to appeal to your students' emotions to get them to comply with you.
And most importantly…
3) How to give an effective ultimatum to the disruptive students without losing your cool.
Ready? Let me free your mind.
1) Create Boundaries and Be Consistent
"There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”*
Morpheus is the man that frees Neo from his virtual prison. Through his advice, Morpheus helps Neo navigate the deadly terrain by helping him to understand the rules that bound both the physical & machine worlds.
Any mistakes could get them all killed so Morpheus had to make sure Neo was aware of all the possible pitfalls.
Although you are not fighting homicidal machines for humanity's freedom, the principle is true.
You will need to establish explicit boundaries and expectations. Never assume that your students know what they are.
The school rules in of themselves are not enough. YOU as the teacher have to create the EMOTIONAL MEANING for your students. If your students are not emotionally invested in the rules that are set, they won’t care enough to keep them.
You will need to develop what I call a ‘Social Contract’ - these are a set of rules and expectations that you with your students discuss and agree on at the beginning of any school year.
It can be your school rules or your personal principles - it doesn’t matter. The key here is that this has to be EXPLICITLY discussed and your students must be INVOLVED.
In a later post, I will explain exactly how to do this - watch this space.
For now, you can create some basic guidelines, agreed on them and put them on display AT ALL TIMES in your classroom. These rules are your Magna Carta and must be treated with the same honour. Your rules should include: physical and emotional safety, respect for all people and listening to everyone's voice in the room.
What happens when someone breaks the rules?
Whenever someone is being disruptive, you must show the student where they are going wrong based on what you agreed.
Sometimes this may not have to be verbal - if you are in the middle of teaching and someone is chattering away, you can gently tap on the Social Contract on display & that should be enough to stop them.
If the student is persistent, in a quiet moment, speak to them at their desk or have a quick two-minute conversation outside the classroom.
State clearly what Social Contract rule they have broken and end it with an open question. For example, you could say something like “we agreed to respect and listen to each other but when I was teaching, I felt you weren't doing that. Am I out of line to say that?”
This gives the student the chance to reflect on their own behaviour and helps you understand their emotional state.
Using open-ended questions allows you to enquire rather than accuse — you don’t want to start a firefight and you don’t want your learner to feel that you are cornering them.
Honestly, if the incident is minor and your class is settled, try to give the disruptive student time to respond.
If the student hasn’t been ‘emotionally highjacked’ and they are in a positive frame of mind, they should be able to explain themselves clearly. If done correctly, you show your students that you have both authority and warmth - a great combo to have.
If the student continues to be defiant or rude, then let's travel further down the rabbit hole...
2) Always Sell Benefits Not Features
“Then tomorrow we may all be dead, but how would that be different from any other day? This is a war, and we are soldiers. Death can come for us at any time, in any place. Now consider the alternative. What if I am right? What if the prophecy is true? What if tomorrow the war could be over? Isn’t that worth fighting for? Isn’t that worth dying for?”*
Morpheus wasn’t only a great warrior and a leader, he was a fantastic speaker.
In the films, the Human Resistance was pushed to the brink of extinction by the Machines. The humans lost virtually every encounter with their vicious, relentless enemies.
Every day, he had to motivate his troops to continue to fight, knowing that he was leading many of them to their deaths. He did that by appealing to their emotions rather than their logic and his actions eventually lead to human victory.
Compared to what he faced, dealing with a bunch of children/teenagers is a piece of cake.
But... You can Morpheus' technique. In fact, this technique is used by the best salespeople in the land and it's called “Benefits over Features.”
Most of us hate salespeople because they are always trying to sell us stuff that we don’t need. Go to the Selfridges perfume section in West London & you will see what I mean.
But great salespeople are like really good waiters in a posh restaurant. They enhance the diner’s experience by listening, advising and making sure that they get the best meal that will suit their tastes.
So what is a 'feature' and what is a 'benefit?'
A feature is a fact about what you're selling. “This digital diary synchronises the teams’ tasks.”
A benefit is how that feature can help make your life easier or better. “Using this diary will make your team more efficient, get you that promotion and help you leave the office before 6pm.”
A feature appeals to your logic. A benefit appeal to your emotions. Always sell benefits never features. You are a salesperson too. As a teacher, you are selling your students on the idea that you are worth being listened to.
The problem when we deal with our students is that we try to appeal to them from OUR interests when we should be trying to appeal to them from THEIR interests. Going back to that example where the student has repeatedly broken your social contract, you could say:
“If this behaviour continues, I will be forced to give you a twenty-minute detention.”
This doesn’t sound like an inconvenience and this will make them more likely to continue.
Let’s try it again from another angle.
“If this behaviour continues, I will be forced to keep you back for twenty minutes on Friday afternoon which means that will be late for football practice and may not be able to play in the match.”
Which one sounds more compelling? Once you know your students, you will know what appeals to them. Use that knowledge to persuade them to listen.
3) The Easy Road and The Hard Road
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth – nothing more.”*
In this now-iconic scene, Neo tracks down Morpheus and asks him to reveal the secret of the Matrix.
Despite the stakes and the risks involved, Morpheus slowly and calmly explains that Neo has to make a difficult choice - one that has serious consequences. After he lays out the choices, Morpheus calmly waits while Neo chooses his fate.
He doesn’t interrupt.
He doesn’t apply pressure.
He trusts that he will make the right decision - And you must do the same with your students.
If the two previous techniques fail, then you and your learner have hit a fork in the road and one that may apply a sanction. You must follow Morpheus’ example and present them with a choice that THEY will have to pick.
Here’s my “Easy Road Hard Road Technique.”
Once you have created that space to talk, you present your student two options based on what happened in the class.
One is the Easy Road - this is an opportunity to resolve the situation whether it is an apology, following the procedure or correcting what went wrong. The other choice is the Hard Road which will involve a consequence.
Here is an example:
"Justin we agreed at the beginning of the term that we were going to listen and respect each other but you have been quite rude to me and your classmates. I spoke to you earlier about this and you told me that you would stop but now you upset Richie who was getting on with his work.
Now you have to pick a road: The Easy Road would be to apologise to the people that you have upset and get on with the work that you were meant to until the end of the lesson.
If you cannot do that then you have chosen The Hard Road which would mean that you will force me to give you a twenty-minute detention and call your parents. I will give you a minute to make your decision." Fin.
The key to this strategy is choice.
You have put the ball in the student’s court. In doing this, you are asking your student to take responsibility for their behaviour and they are still part of the process.
Another reason why this is effective is that it allows your student to calm down from being 'emotionally hijacked.’ I’ll explain more about that later.
After the time period that you set, come back and ask for their answer. If they don’t answer then they have chosen the Hard Road and then you must follow through with whatever procedures that you have in place.
Where possible, try to talk to the student privately and in a calm manner — the disruption could disturb other students or other classes and the student in question may feel that you are trying to embarrass them which could make communication difficult.
Also, combine this with “Benefits Not Features” to make it even more compelling.
You Are The One
Hopefully, you have now been unplugged from the mistakes of poor behaviour management and now you are ready to take on your disruptive classrooms. But there are still many lessons that you must learn before you can fight Agents while wearing tight leather.
Sign up to my blog below to get the latest updates and resources. Join the Resistance against poor behaviour in your classrooms today.
Karl from actionheroteacher.com
Quotes taken from IMDb https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/characters/nm0000401