Thursday, December 10, 2015

Assuming Responsibility

Yesterday, as we were tidying up the classroom, I spotted one of our parent-teachers taking it upon herself to pick up the square platforms upon which to build with Duplos. She asked me, "Where do you want me to put these?" and I replied, "Back on the floor. The kids know where they go." 

I talk to the parent-teachers quite a bit about how clean-up time is the children's responsibility, but it seems almost impossible for some of them not to pitch in without a reminder from me. It's probably because they learned to assume responsibility when they were young. Many parents have told me how hard it is to not just do it, whatever it is, for the kids.

And sure enough, before long, a boy started collecting the platforms into a stack. It was a job he picked for himself. As he carefully stepped around classmates who were busy piling the blocks into storage bins, he hunted for the third and forth platforms. A friend took hold of the two platforms he did hold and, wordlessly, they began carrying them together, the second boy guiding the first toward the orange boxes where we often temporarily stash things during clean up time. They tried fitting them in one way, then another, until they figured out to stand them on end. 

Meanwhile a girl, the daughter of the mother who had earlier tried to do the children's work for them, picked up another platform, spotted the boys and asked them, "Does this go in there?" They both answered by pointing at the orange box.

I have never told these children that this is their job, but most of them, most days, assume the responsibility for packing things away before we move on to the next thing on our schedule. The important word in that last sentence is the word "assume." No one has ever accepted responsibility for anything under duress. Sure, commands and threats can motivate us to do things, but that's a different thing: that's an aspect of self-preservation, the most primal form of selfishness. 

When we assume responsibilities, we do it of our own volition: we do it because it needs to be done and we're capable of doing it, the most primal form of selflessness. One boy noticed the platforms needed to be put away and so assumed responsibility for them. The second boy knew where they belonged and assumed responsibility for getting them there. And the girl saw that there were still more platforms to put away and assumed responsibility for helping the boys. 

When we do things for children, when we command or threaten them, we rob them of the opportunity to assume these responsibilities for themselves. It's the difference between an act of obedience and an act of freewill.

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Carol said...

I love that clarification! A few years ago, my older brother (a retired VP) made the comment that "people meets deadlines out of fear..." I disagreed - I have never operated out of fear of missing a deadline or completing a task on time, yet I couldn't quite explain it. You have clarified it for me, I assume the responsibility for meeting deadlines/completing tasks. Apparently he accepts the responsibility. When I look at it this way, it helps me understand him a bit more clearly. Thank you!

Unknown said...

I completely agree and have the same attitude when I am in class with my preschoolers. I do have a few that feel very opposed to the idea of picking up and will hide when the time comes. What will it take for the self motivation to click in to gear? I want it to be more than just being obedient, but rather them being a worker and doing it because they are invested

Anonymous said...

You would definitely need a chapter in your book about this. Awesome.

Danielle said...

So true! How did you facilitate this type of attitude in the beginning of the year? Did you model the behavior or make statements of fact? Or both maybe? Please share!

Alexis said...

I also am very eager to learn more. I'm just a mom, not a teacher, but I'm struggling to find a way to facilitate this kind of culture in our family - one where we all do what we are able to return our home to a usable, reasonably tidy space once or twice a day.

I don't want to yell, command, and badger, but neither do I enjoy being the one to clean everything up every time as the kids move from place to place, toys and props left in their wake...