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I remember many years ago when I taught Grade 6. There were a couple of students that I probably worked with more than others. I wasn’t the only one. Prep coverage teachers also worked with them a lot. The Learning Resource Teacher often supported them. Parents also spent numerous hours working with these children. In the end, I sometimes felt as though we were the ones that invested the time and effort into their success. One day, I became frustrated with one of these students, and I said what had been on my mind for a while: “We can’t be the only ones that care. You have to care too.” Instead of feeling empowered — as I hoped that he might — this child shut down. He got angry and upset. A huge outburst led to him throwing chairs, pushing desks, screaming, and crying. I ended up calling the principal, and in the end, he was sent home for the day. As the principal sat in the office talking with the student and his mother, I remember sitting in the library, breaking down, and crying. Did I cause this?

As educators, I know that we have the children’s best interests at heart, but no matter how much we may know about Self-Reg, we’re human and we still make mistakes. On that day, many years ago, and before I really knew anything about Stuart Shanker or Self-RegI think that I made a BIG mistake. I was reminded of this mistake today, as I was reading some discussion posts for the Reading Part 1 Course that I’m currently taking through our Board. We’re discussing assessment and evaluation, and we had to respond to a question around the student’s role in assessment as, of, and for learning. One of the posts discussed a student’s responsibility around assessment. I’ve made similar comments before when I’ve mentioned children’s ownership over their learning. For some reason though, when I read this discussion post and thought back to my experience many years ago, I wondered if there’s a Self-Reg component that’s being forgotten here. Is it time that we asked Shanker‘s question, “Why this child, and why now?”

Maybe it’s time that we reframe the behaviour that we see around student ownership and assessment. I wonder …

  • Are we asking students to do what they’re capable of doing? (A possible cognitive stressor at play …)
  • Are there too many demands on the student at the same time? (Could various stressors across the domains be at play here?)
  • How is the student’s emotional well-being? Are there other factors that are trumping these academic demands?
  • Is this same assessment behaviour true in all academic areas? Could struggles in certain academic areas impact on how this student views him/herself in this subject and lead to a reluctance to self-assess? This makes me wonder about more cognitive stressors at play. 
  • How are we allowing students to self-assess? And how are we allowing them to share their learning in different academic areas? If our options are limited, and maybe only include options that are more challenging for these students (e.g., writing), is the very process of this sharing actually increasing stress?

I’d like to think that “students do well if they can” (a thought shared by Stuart Shanker and Ross Greene), so if they’re not “doing well” — and that includes taking ownership over their learning — could there be a reason (or multiple reasons) why? Is it time that we explore these possibilities? I continue to think back to my Grade 6 student and how a push for ownership created the ultimate stress response that I failed to recognize at the time. I can’t go back and change things for this child, but I can re-think how I approach similar situations with each new group of children that I teach. What do you do? If we believe that all children will engage if given the right environment for success, then I wonder how we create the conditions to make this possible.