Providing Students with Responsibility

Parenting is one of the most difficult yet rewarding challenges I’ve ever faced in my short life.  When my son was under the age of ten, it was easy to parent him.  I told him what to do and he did it or he had a consequence.  Things were so simple back then.  I tended to be very controlling but did not see the dangers in that style of parenting back then.  He is now 15 years old and trying to control him is like trying to paint a picture without any paint.  So, over the past few years, my parenting style has changed as I’ve adapted to the times.  If I try to control my son, parenting becomes a battle for power.  Instead, I offer options and chances for him to prove himself and take responsibility for his actions.  This puts the control back in his hands.  He responds to this manner of parenting much better.  So, for now, shifting the responsibility and illusion of control to him seems to be working.  Who knows what next week might hold.  Raising a teenager is unpredictable as I often feel like I’m blindly swimming in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean.  Will he bite off a limb or leave me alone?  Only time will tell.

Sometimes, the challenges I face in the classroom leave me wondering in the same way parenting my son leaves me feeling frustrated and perplexed at times.  Is my solution the most effective one for the students?  Could I have approached the situation differently?  While I don’t like to second guess my decisions, it is vital to reflect upon them so as to be prepared for the future.

Prior to my school’s March Break, our sixth grade class struggled to meet the expectations placed upon them by various school administrators during transition times and Morning Break.  The students had lost the privilege of being inside an academic space during the 15-minute long Morning Break because they were being loud and a bit physical with one another.  At that point, they had to spend the break period outside.  The problem with this solution was that to a boy, snow means one thing and one thing only, snowballs.  So, they began throwing snowballs at each other.  As this violated our school’s policy on snowball throwing, they were then mandated to wait in the stairwell near our classroom during the Morning Break time.  This also caused problems.  When you cram 10 sixth grade boys into a space the size of a small closet, physicality and frustration are sure to come about.  At this point, March Break arrived, thank goodness.

Over the long vacation, my co-teachers and I had much time to allow new ideas and solutions to this problem to percolate.  Do we confine the boys to the classroom during Morning Break?  That way they can be monitored while also having the chance to interact and be social with one another.  But, they are young boys and they need to run around and be active.  So, do we make them stay outside to run around?  What about those introverts in the class whole need some alone time to recalibrate between classes?  Spending more time with their peers could be detrimental to their well-being.  So, then what?  What if we pose this same question to the students?  What if we pass the baton of control over to the boys and give them some responsibility in all of this?

As all great teachers know, empowering students by providing them with options and choices allows for much more engagement and buy-in in the classroom.  So, this morning, prior to Morning Break, we asked the boys for their suggestions on where they could go during that free time.  Most of the boys agreed that they should be allowed to choose what they do and where they go during that chunk of free time in the morning.  If they want to go back to their dorm room, they can.  If they want to stay in an academic space, mindful of the rules and expectations, they should be allowed to do so.  Making the students responsible for how they use this time will help prepare them for the freedom they will face in the seventh grade next year.  So, we decided to give their idea a trial run this week.

Today was day one and things went swimmingly.  Perhaps tomorrow will showcase something different, but we need to trust that the students will do what is best for them.  We need to support and help our students rise to the occasion and demonstrate their ability to be thoughtful, kind, and compassionate.  If we never allow them opportunities to practice being a good and safe friend, will they ever truly learn?


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