Work out of respect, or respectful work?

We have all had these kids…the ones who are gifted, brilliant, or very far ahead of their peers with regard to their readiness levels, yet arrive to our classrooms after years of not being challenged. School is an act of compliance and conformity where learning is only for the few who fit the ‘middle of the road’ parameters. They enter our buildings prepared to jump through whatever hoops teachers place before them and fully understand how the game of school works. They sit in class quietly and complete every assignment maintaining the status quo of their environment without thinking, creating, or learning.

I was made aware of a student who fit this bill. He was a world language student studying Spanish. Assignments were rote and the same for everyone. Filling in the blanks was the norm rather than creating language. He completed assignments not because he needed the practice, but out of respect for his teacher.

Wait a minute. He commented that he completed assignments out of respect for the teacher…let that sink in.

How troubling! His love of the language was getting lost in countless meaningless assignments. Getting an ‘A’ was never a question because point acquisition was an easy endeavor. This class was becoming, as he put it, a ‘joke’ rather than an opportunity to communicate with people from around the world and learn their varied cultures. Compliance had more value than growth.

┬áThis situation makes me feel a little ill to be quite honest. I know the scenario has played out in the same fashion for years, but to have such a clear example right in front of me gave it a new reality. Students deserve much more than a school experience that lacks learning. Aren’t there are ways to show respect without succumbing to a sub par experience?

Some of you may be wondering, why these students don’t self advocate for more. Many reasons abound, and I believe they become jaded with the process and get used to the idea of being bored. Disenchanted kids forget what risk taking, recovery from failure, and learning feel like and need a spark to remember. They are conditioned to perform to the same level as other peers even though deep down they yearn for challenge. The ceiling is placed low and they have forgotten the joy of breaking out and pushing past it. Their intrinsic motivation gets shoved back so far it is very difficult to uncover and release.

Why would we want to create this for our students at any level? They should enjoy the challenge of learning and excitement of curiosity with new levels of understanding. Completing mundane tasks runs the risk of negatively impacting learning for a lifetime. Students become robots, and they will be released into a world of work that requires the exact opposite.

As we begin this school year, let’s flip the table concerning respect. Let’s honor our students as learners. Let’s design experiences and tasks that are relevant and meaningful. Let’s be responsive and involve students in the decision-making process. Kids will stop completing assignments to show you respect and compliance. They will work because they want to learn. This is the ultimate respect a student can show you.

A thank you to Brian Durst and his student for the inspiration for this post.

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