Responsibility In School

vs. unreliability

Knowing and doing what is expected of me

To practice Responsibility I will:

  • do my work to be best of my ability
  • keep my commitments
  • clarify expectations
  • not make excuses
  • correct my mistakes

 Can’t Do? Won’t Do?
– Bill Croskey

I used to teach high school psychology. In my class, we read The Art of Loving, written by Erich Fromm. In that book, Fromm wrote that love has four components: Caring; Respect; Responsibility; Knowledge. On Responsibility, he made a distinction between (1) respond-ability, or the ability to respond lovingly to someone; and (2) willingness to respond. I think these two aspects of this month’s Character Quality, Responsibility, apply to more than love relationships. Seems like they fit in a school setting as well.

My mentor, Warren McClellan, former principal at Loveland Schools, used to challenge our problem-solving team with the question of whether a student who was struggling in school was one who CAN’T DO the work; or was it more that he or she WON’T DO the work. “Can’t Do” asked whether the student had the ability or the skill required to succeed at a task. “Won’t Do” wondered whether the student was unmotivated, hung up by problems at home, or distracted by non-school interests. If a student cannot do the work, he or she is unable to respond successfully to the challenges of school work. If a student is choosing NOT to do the work, she or he is unwilling to respond for some reason which must be uncovered.

The distinction between Can’t Do and Won’t Do matters. Our special education system, while being renovated with Response to Intervention (RTI) and 3-tier approaches to serving students, still is set up for and geared to identifying “Can’t Dos.” The special education categories are pigeon holes which are pretty clearly defined and which suggest what is wrong with the student who is not Responding to regular instruction or previous Interventions. In fact, the whole RTI system is an exercise in monitoring Respond-ability. But these Can’t Dos are misidentified at times. In a world where we care more what surface behavior looks like than what “hidden” motives may exist, a person who does not respond to regular education approaches is, almost totally by definition, a “Can’t Do. But I have seen many students who seemingly lack the skill or ability in a subject, but are in fact withholding their Responses. Kids whose parents are going through divorces have withheld academic responding as they might have resisted toilet training or refused to eat in a different period of their lives. Why? To get a reaction from their parents. What do kids that age control? Not much besides their school work. So, what do they use to make their point, consciously or unconsciously? School work. How about kids who are depressed? They may not have the energy to respond. But it does not mean they do not know how to read or do math. Or anxious kids? School anxiety is real. Students who may easily demonstrate their academic skills in one environment freeze up when the pressure increases. Can’t Dos? Well, yeah, in a way, but only when their anxiety is high.

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Archived Bulletins for Responsibility