Be relentless

As I was looking for inspiration for my next blog post, I reflected on several conversations I have had with colleagues at work as well as with members of my PLN on twitter.  I realized I had been asked the same question several times in the past week – What do you do when students won’t do their work?

With a standards based, differentiated classroom, my students don’t always do the same work.  All I care about is that my students an interpret and produce language at the end of the day.  It doesn’t matter how they get there, just that they are always growing, learning, and improving.

Ok, so back to the question…what do I do in my classroom when students won’t do their work?  There are so many things to consider, but here are a few…

  • is the work too easy?
  • is the work too hard?
  • have I considered learning profiles?
  • is the work interesting and engaging?
  • is there something going on in this student’s life (safety threatened, basic physical needs, etc.) that must be addressed before they can focus on school?
  • have I effectively communicated the importance of the skill we are working on?
I believe there is one more way to answer to this question, and maybe it is the best one.  This has been the best solution for me, the answer that made a difference when I was frustrated, backed into a corner, and didn’t know what else to do.
Be relentless.  
Some of our students simply want to be left alone to fail.  This is completely unacceptable.  Form relationships with them.  Talk with them – every day.  Know that there will be good days and some that feel unproductive. These kids are persistent, but you must prevail.  When they see that they have someone on their side, fighting for their education, their future, their growth – they still may not respond.  These students may not feel the impact of your shared struggle until much later on, but it is still worth it.  Don’t give up.
Be relentless.  
Be positive, assure them that they can find success in your class, and show them how.  Seek evidence of achievement and explore areas for growth.  Don’t let their negativity impact other students.  Celebrate the positive and address any negatives in a firm but caring manner.  
Be relentless.
Allow everyone in your classroom (yourself included) to make mistakes and learn from them.  Showcase the learning that happens in response to a failure.  Admit the failures you make and model the behaviors you want to see in the aftermath.  Model perseverance in pursuit of learning goals.
Be relentless.
Show your students that learning happens everywhere, not just inside the walls of a school.  Often learning gets a bad reputation as being boring and something you just have to get through in childhood and adolescence.  Change this and show them how they learn all the time in every part of their lives.  Learning is a constant for us in a world where many things are inconsistent.
Be relentless.
Be prepared to change what you thought was appropriate work.  Keep trying different types of work until the student latches on to something and engages.  Ask the student what type of work they want to do, letting them know that doing nothing is not an option.  Don’t get angry when they don’t want to do what you suggest, work with them to find the best answer.  Let them see you are on the same team, not in opposition.
Be relentless.

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  1. Meg King-Abraham September 1, 2013 at 10:27 PM - Reply

    Thank you for giving us a great combination of student perspectives and teacher actions. I am often tempted to give up on a student when I feel that they have given up. I need to remind myself not to take it personally. I will be adding your strategies to my “toolbox.”

    • Garnet Hillman September 5, 2013 at 5:59 AM - Reply

      Glad to have added to your toolbox Meg! I am always adding to mine, we must always seek to grow and improve our craft as teachers. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Jasper Fox Sr. September 1, 2013 at 8:38 PM - Reply

    Wonderfully written post, you hit on a great point about not letting students fail. It takes persistence on the teachers part to not allow this, I think that this trait is one of the most important factors in being a great teacher. Failing is the easy way out all around, from the student as you mentioned but also on the teachers part. It would be so much easier to simply say “the kid didn’t try” or something like that, rather than put in the time, effort, and emotion to see the situation through to success. You did a great job explaining the various causes of failing, ones that every teacher would do well to consider when dealing with a student who is not meeting with success.

    • Garnet Hillman September 5, 2013 at 5:58 AM - Reply

      Thanks Jasper, I agree that not giving up on a student is one of the hardest parts to our job at times. There are a lot of easy ways out, but our students deserve more!

  3. Starr Sackstein September 1, 2013 at 7:58 AM - Reply

    I love this post, Garnet. It’s honest and thoughtful. You offer a lot to think about and brings us to a point of recognition in our own teaching. Thanks for sharing.

    • Garnet Hillman September 5, 2013 at 5:57 AM - Reply

      Thanks Starr, it is funny how just when I wonder what I will write about next a topic seems to present itself. Self reflection brings about such important improvment in our teaching. Appreciate the comment!

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