Fostering Responsibility in Children: "Contributory Activities" and the Role of the School
Some of the initial ideas for the approach for teaching children to be responsible, namely, to ask them to contribute in some manner to their world, arose from research I conducted a number of years ago when I asked adults to reflect upon one of their fondest memories of school, a memory in which a teacher said or did something that enhanced their self-esteem. The most common answer was when they were asked to help out or contribute in some manner to the school environment. Below are several examples of these memories:
"My sixth grade teacher chose me to collect banking money from class members, keep records, and take the money to the bank. It made me feel competent and responsible."
"In the fourth grade I was asked to paint a mural along with three other students to be a permanent part of the school. It was wonderfully positive! Later, as an 8th grade teacher, I had a class paint a mural on a 1783 colonial farm in Connecticut."
"I had an eighth grade teacher who gave me the responsibility for creating the decorations/backdrops for the school holiday programs. It was a massive undertaking. She greatly encouraged my artistic interests and talents."
"When I was in high school, I was asked to spend a couple of hours a week in the junior high school next door tutoring students in math. Doing this was such a boost to my confidence and I felt I was really making a difference in the lives of others."
In my practice as a clinical psychologist and as a former principal of a school in a locked door unit of a psychiatric hospital, I have been confronted with the question of designing and implementing the most effective interventions for motivating seemingly angry, resistant students and developing a more caring, compassionate, responsible attitude in these youth. Given the acts of violence that have occurred in our schools and the complaints I have heard on countless occasions from many educators about the large number of unmotivated, "alienated" students that inhabit our schools, the question of how to engage these students becomes even more critical.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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