Cultivating Commitment in the Classroom

By Aristotle

I find that most things in this world fall somewhere on a spectrum, from tangibles – such as how tall a person is, to intangibles – such as how tenacious a person is.

Depending on what we’re talking about, a variety of factors can impact exactly where on a spectrum a person may fall.  Genetics, nutrition, sleep, sickness, medication, upbringing, peer influence – just a handful that comes to mind.

A person’s level of commitment can also be placed on a spectrum.

As teachers, we’ve all likely experienced that motivating some students is like pulling teeth, while other students seem to be intrinsically self-motivated, or committed, to working hard and doing their best.  And of course, there are students who fall anywhere in between.

So what are some best practices in cultivating a sense of commitment in our students?  We all want hardworking students who put forth their best efforts, right?

In attempting to answer this question, I fully disclose that I am no expert.  However, I believe that some basic truths, or principles, can point us in the right direction.  Let’s explore this idea.

Earth Day was not too long ago, and I’m perhaps thinking more about the earth than I ever have now that my wife and I own a home with a yard.  This has made me more cognizant about my, at best, cursory understanding of horticulture.

As I begin to learn about approaches and options to growing a yard so that it doesn’t look like a football practice field, I’m amazed at all the different brands and types of fertilizers.  Turf Builder is what I see on many of the bags.

Teachers.  We don’t build turf in our classrooms; we build character.

But don’t the basic principles that apply to building turf also apply to building character?  I believe so.  Feed and tend to it, and it’ll grow.  Neglect and abuse it, and it’ll die.

I previously threw out the idea of exploring how we as teachers can leverage motivational videos to build character in our students, such as a sense of commitment.  I provided the following video as an example of one I’ve shown my own 5th-grade students:

These videos are convenient because they typically run a few minutes and they’re relatively easy to find, making them fairly simple to “plant” both into the curriculum and the school day.

I mentioned last week that I have my students all day for every subject, so as they eat their mid-morning snack (nutritious of course!), I have the perfect opportunity to feed their spirit nutritious content such as this.

Feeding.  I like this analogy.  I use it with my students. Whatever we feed grows.  In terms of our character, or what may be referred to as our spirit, I think most believe each of us innately has the capacity for good, but also the capacity for, well, not-so-good.  Whatever is fed, good or bad, will ultimately grow stronger.

We can feed that which will grow fruit and benefit others (and ourselves) – things like perseverance, self-control, gratitude, and yes, commitment.  Conversely, we can feed that which will grow weeds and insidiously choke out life, harming others (and ourselves) – things like selfishness, impulsiveness, and giving up.

Every yard or garden is susceptible to weeds.  Every person’s character is susceptible to them too.

We all do things, say things, and think things that aren’t aligned with what we value.  Weeds in our own character.

I think it’s important that our students know we struggle with these things at times.  We all have said something out of anger, we’ve all done something we’ve regretted, we’ve all had the desire to quit.  We must learn to, however, work to yank these weeds from our lives.  The only way we, and our students, will do this is if we’re able to evaluate our own core values.

Core values.  These motivational videos serve as seeds, from which these core values can grow.  

But it’s not until these values truly take root that students, or anyone, will be able to evaluate them. By taking root, I mean “buy-in.”  Students must buy-in (not just kind of buy in) to the good of perseverance, the good of self-control, the good of commitment.  Buy-in may take years, but as teachers, we need to strive to cultivate it.

It all starts with some planting though, which is what teachers can utilize these quick, motivational videos for.

Use them as brain breaks.
Use them as individual character development lessons.
Use them as part of the curriculum (examples next week).

Cultivating commitment or any core value for that matter isn’t easy.  Great things take time.  Those core values we’re looking to grow may not even take root in our classrooms.  And like the deer that devoured my hostas last night, there is much outside our control.

But that should never deter us from our own commitment as teachers.

Our commitment to grow students who don’t go into this world to just take and tear down, but rather those who go into this world to give back and build up.

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Cultivating takes more than just planting something once and sitting back.  It’s a process.  “Beyond just planting” will be the focus of our next blog post.

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