April 2015 NEWSLETTER
NO OPT OUT: WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER
"When students are allowed to ‘opt out’ - it is as if they are invisible; that they do not matter to the teacher."
A few years ago I observed a chemistry class and watched the following story unfold. While the teacher lectured, a student walked in tardy. The teacher did not acknowledge the student and continued with his lecture. The student slowly made his way to a seat, slumped down in the chair, and stared off to the side of the classroom. The student remained in this position the entire period, never opening his backpack, taking out a pencil, or cracking a book. When I later asked the teacher about this, he said that this particular student had made the choice not to engage most days in class.
When students are allowed to ‘opt out’ - it is as if they are invisible; that they do not matter to the teacher.
Previously, I argued that our starting routines must engage all students at the same moment and that it must have value for students. In addition to engagement and value we need to have what Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) calls a No Opt Out Policy. In fact, of his 49 techniques that put students on the path to college, the No Opt Out is listed first!
For students with what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset, those who believe they cannot succeed academically, not trying is the safest route. If these students do not try then they cannot fail.
“A teacher’s beliefs about students’ chances of success in school influence the teacher’s actions with students, which in turn influence students’ achievement. If the teacher believes students can succeed, she tends to behave in ways that help them succeed. If the teacher believes that students cannot succeed, she unwittingly tends to behave in ways that subvert student success or at least do not facilitate student success. This is perhaps one of the most powerful hidden dynamics of teaching because it is typically an unconscious activity.” –Robert Marazano, What Works in Schools.
I saw the student in that chemistry class differently than his teacher saw him. I saw a disenfranchised and disengaged young man who may have believed that he did not matter to his chemistry teacher. I wonder if this student felt the same way in his other classes. I like to think that there are students who go throughout a school day and at the very least get noticed by one of their teachers; but we know this is not always the case.
Use a No Opt Out policy in conjunction with Organized Binder's Kick-Off and you will communicate to every student that they matter and that you care. I love Deborah Meier's take on caring in The Power of Their Ideas, "Caring and compassion are not soft, mushy goals. They are part of the hard core of subjects we are responsible for teaching." A thriving classroom is the sum of all its parts and it does not function the same if everyone is not present and engaged. When starting class, pause to be sure every single student has their binder open to their Weekly Lifeline (Page B) and then start together as a class community. Even for students arriving late, be sure that they know the expectation to immediately join the class in the Kick-Off prompt.
Thanks for reading and sharing,