Saturday, January 1, 2011

No more excuses...

Have you ever heard people make these kinds of comments to describe their reluctant learners?
  • Other kids seemed to learn...I've always taught like this.
  • They rarely complete their homework or do any studying.
  • They never come to see me for extra help even though I offer it.
  • They're lazy.
  • They're totally disorganized. They forget their work and materials all the time.
  • They have a bad attitude and don't seem to care about school.  
  • They miss too much class time.  They're late or absent so often.
  • They spend too much time on extra-curricular activities outside of school time.
  • They don't pay enough attention in class.  They are too easily distracted by social matters and their cell phones.
  • They don't take enough responsibility for their own learning.
We can all probably picture a student who has demonstrated one or more of the comments above.

But even if some of these comments are true of our students, unless we act on our comments aren't they nothing more than 'excuses'?

If we truly care about our students and their learning, I believe we should rephrase these comments as questions that begin with 'why'.  We need to ask ourselves 'why' our student are demonstrating these characteristics.

Furthermore, I believe we should challenge ourselves by asking two more questions...

  • What am I doing/not doing that is causing my students not to learn? 
  • What can I do to help them learn?
When we start answering these questions, our excuses will disappear and we will be taking the steps to help our students learn!


  1. The statements in blue above remind me of a statement a friend of mine always makes....when someone throws out a negative comment or statement, he follows up with a "Yes, and" statement. What comes after the "Yes, and" is always a positive statement about how to address the issue and move forward, rather than allowing the statement to put the brakes on our efforts. Great post to start the year!

  2. Great post Aaron.

    I remember when I was a ‘newish’ counsellor, I would often go to my Department Head to review, debrief sessions I had with my respective students and parents. It was during one of these 'sessions' when I was detailing an acrimonious conversation I had with a parent that my DH, Marion Dedijer, asked me, "What was it about you that elicited this response from the parent?"

    Your two "what" questions in red evoked this memory in me - a memory that has the following as its foundational message: we need to keep an objective lens, one free of subjective analysis and "they can't" comments and continue to refine our delivery to kids. However, perhaps deeper than this is our need to nurture the belief that within every student there is inherent goodness and promise.

    In borrowing from your coaching lexicon, "Any athlete will go through a wall for you, you just have to show them how and help them to believe that they can."

    I think I'm beginning to mix my metaphors now; however, thanks for sharing this. Anytime I read something that evokes a powerful memory within me, I am richer for the experience and hopefully the author is too - as educators we never get to hear how much of an impact we make on those around us :)

  3. Gino, you are so right! Every kid does possess inherent goodness and promise. It's important for all of us to remember that kids do not come to school everyday looking to make mistakes and intentional errors in judgment. When a student's actions (or lack of) cause us frustrations, it is important to take a step back and rather than simply dealing with the behaviour, getting to the root cause of the behaviour. As challenging as it can be at some points in time, seeking the input of the student is very helpful when we ask 'why' something is or isn't happening the way we would have hoped or expected.

    I also agree with your comment 'you just have to show them how and help them to believe that they can'. We need to remember that sometimes we will have to show students how, many times and in many different ways. The fact that we continue to try is what demonstrates to kids that we believe in them and ultimately leads to their believing in themselves.

    Amongst my weaknesses is my tendency to come back to coaching analogies. This is probably because some of my best learning as a kid came through participation in sport and from modeling by my coaches.
    As you are well aware, so many of the lessons from sport can be applied to life. I appreciate that you and many others are able to relate to my sporting analogies!

    As always thanks for your honest and thoughtful comments!


  4. Great post Aaron. I've heard those statements before that seem to lay blame on the students without reflecting on what we as educators can do to engage our students in their learning. Thank you for the "What" questions. I will definitely be asking them of my myself more often (I teach part of my day), and modeling that for my staff.