Nurturing Student Ownership and Responsibility: A Vital Ingredient of a Positive School Climate
I have had the opportunity to interview many students about their perception of school and their thoughts about what factors are involved in creating a positive school climate. Not surprisingly, in most instances their first responses capture a theme I have addressed in previous articles on my website as well as in other writings, namely, the relationship that teachers develop with their students. When students feel that teachers and school administrators genuinely care about them and help them to feel welcome, they are more motivated to cooperate and to succeed. I should note that the importance of a sense of belongingness is not confined to schools but to all environments including those in the business and corporate world.
In addition to educators helping them to feel welcome, another factor that students describe as integral in reinforcing a positive tone in schools is whether or not they are provided some input into their own education, that is, whether they experience a sense of ownership. While many students with whom I have spoken feel that their teachers invite and respect their opinions and explain the rationale for different educational practices, many others perceive this quality to be lacking in their schools. The following opinions are a representative sample offered by this latter group:
“No one explains why homework is important. They just give it to you.”
“There are so many rules in a school. I think some of the rules are there to aggravate students.
“I wanted to read a certain book for a book report. Even though the teacher said we could choose our own book, he wouldn’t accept this one. He said that it was about sports and not challenging enough. But he never even glanced at it. Just because a book is about sports doesn’t mean it’s not good.”
“Kids have no say in anything they do in school.”
Some might dismiss these and similar sentiments as complaints lodged by a dissatisfied group of children and adolescents who believe they should have total control of what transpires in school. For instance, at one of my workshops an educator responded to a discussion about “student ownership” with the view, “Most students never feel they have enough say. If it were up to the students, especially adolescents, they would make up all the rules and probably do away with homework and tests.”
I do not agree with this teacher’s observation. I do not believe that the goal of the vast majority of students is to dictate what all of the rules of a classroom or an entire school should be. If anything, in my interviews I have found that most students are receptive to parents and teachers establishing rules and limits as long as they feel the adults have listened to and respected their opinion. Some may argue that students only feel listened to when adults agree with them, but I have not discovered this to be the case. From my perspective, problems arise when students sense their voice is not being heard, when they experience rules as arbitrary and imposed with little explanation, and when they perceive that adults are speaking down to them. In such instances, a feeling of ownership is lacking, replaced by resentment and a lack of cooperation.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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