Words can be confusing. Sometimes they bring a beautiful expression to our beliefs, but sometimes they downright impede sensible action in critical areas.
When we get our words wrong, particularly when explaining our beliefs, we often choose ensuing actions that cause harm and damage.
Take responsibility for example. Which of the following statements, which both sound reasonable in isolation, is most true of what you believe about this important character trait:
- Students should be held responsible when they do the right thing.
- Students should take responsibility when they do the wrong thing.
Personally, I’m down with Option 2. And that’s not because of the belief itself but because of what happens next when we adopt those words as a belief.
If we go with the words of Option 1, we are more likely to adopt punitive systems to control student behaviour. We create a lot of work for exhausted teachers and leave students caught with few choices other than to lie (in order to mitigate the chance of a negative outcome for themselves) or to merely endure a few detentions (which they routinely use to plot revenge).
In Option 1, the real responsibility is the teacher’s. We need to hold them responsible.
Option 2 activates the student – and that’s what I like about it. If the student does the taking of responsibility, it means we’re asking what needs to be done to clean up the mess of screwing up. What’s the work required to release yourself from the shame/guilt/embarrassment of that screw-up so you can move forward without that destructive stuff in your consciousness?
In Option 2, the students do the work and the outcome is routinely that they walk out of shame and into genuine … umm … responsibility.
You see, it’s hard to become responsible if you haven’t been grown in an environment that has normalised the taking of it.
Many Australian schools claim responsibility as a value (it comes in second behind respect) but only some of them permit students to access responsibility as an active habit.
Taking … not holding.
Keep fighting that good fight,
PS. On Tuesday 28th September the extraordinary Tracey Ezard and I are running a 1-day online masterclass for Middle & Emerging School Leaders for ACEL as a lead-in to their National Conference. It’s titled “Leading With The Heart & Mind” and it’s all about ensuring you work on the stuff that really matters in your school. We’d love to have representation from your school there. Register here.
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