You are boring. What are you going to do about it?

It became obvious to me years ago that it seems the one reason why kids got IEPs is because they were bored.  “Page 8” of the IEP is full of tricks to get the kid to pay attention and “do their work.”  I have often wanted to say at PPTs that maybe if we changed how we taught we would not have to trick the kid into doing their work.  Instead of the teacher being exposed for having flaws, we instead slap a label upon the kid.

People with ADHD have a low level of tolerance for boredom.  This is normally perceived as a character deficit.

As I have observed kids over the years I realized that most kids fall in line with school.  They walk in, sit down, stop talking, be quiet for 45 mins, exit the room, walk into the next class, sit down, stop talking, be quiet for 45 mins, and they do it over, and over, and over, and over, over, and over, and over each day.

In a University of Pennsylvania study dogs were given electric shocks.  One group was able to make them stop by pressing a lever.  The dogs that had no lever eventually just laid down and took the shocks, when even moving two feet would make them stop.

But not all do.  Some kids misbehave and do not follow the school rules.  They seemingly fight back against every effort to help them become more like the other kids.  We talk to them about studying, being quiet, and doing what they are told…but they don’t listen.  After observing these kids’ strong sense of individualism I cannot help but see the same exact qualities in them that I see in successful adults who are entrepreneurs and change agents…professional surfers and digital nomads.

Some childrens’ bad behavior is instead of surrendering to powerlessness and might be a healthy survival tactic.  It’s not misbehaving, but fighting against the helplessness.

Schools have implemented so many programs to help these rebellious kids.  We go out of our way for special PD for special training in special programs.  We hold sessions at conferences sharing the newest techniques and tools to motivate and control behavior.  We change our grading, our attendance policies, our after school offerings, our tech tools, we flip and blend and collect data and BYOD and gamify to help these kids, but still there is a force at work in classrooms that seems beyond the grasp of any new program or tool.

After days of following high school students around from class to class…Jefferey Wilhelm has concluded that an underestimated force in education which is responsible from everything from bullying to dropping out is boredom.  Schools that are set up to be boring do damage to kids.

Teachers try to get kids to be creative, innovate, imagine.  Schools start maker spaces, genius hours, and Inventor Conventions.  Teachers complain about the inability of students to think “outside-the-box,” be independent, create, lead, and dream.  The same people that complain about kids not being ready for the “real world” are the same that create the rules that lead to one-size-fits all classrooms.

We encourage rigid conformity art the exact point when kids brains are most malleable and then complain when kids are in college with no curiosity once wiring is established

Education is not to prepare kids for the future.  It is to prepare them for the now.  Their now.  It is not to prepare them to be college and career ready so that corporations can feed off of them when they graduate from college.

What is education?  Not to make you behave and be obedient.  Its to help you do what you want.

 Students crave independence and power.  Not tyrannical power, simply the power to control just a piece of their life.  The reality is that there is hardly one decision that is made each day that is theirs.  Let’s face it, when you have to ask someone else if you can pee, a little piece of you inside dies with the question.

When students feel like they have a genuine power over their environment, they have a vested interest in keeping it both peaceful and successful.

So what are you going to do about it?  Tomorrow just stop.  Stop and look out at your kids.  For the daring amongst you ask your kids…”Am I boring?”  For the daring but not brave, ask your kids to answer the question anonymously on a piece of paper.   For the daring but not ready to make it personal yet amongst you…ask them the question but make it about your lesson or unit.  For those of you who are just curious but not ready to talk about it with your kids…just pause long enough to look at the expression on  each kids face.  Are those the faces you imagined on your kids when you started teaching?  Based on what you see, based on what your hear or read from them…what’s your plan?

If you want kids to be empathetic, place them into an environment that is supportive, democratic, and fair minded free of cruelty.  Not as defined by teachers, but by kids.  An environment where kids with lousy short term memories are not punished.

I read a book that sparked this post.  It’s called Square Pegs by L. Todd Rose.  All the quotes in this post are from the book.  It reminded me to keep a fresh perspective when dealing with the kids who are not meeting “my” expectations.  It has especially reminded me to keep an open mind when dealing with the kids who seemingly just want to quit.  I think if you read the book you will never see the rebels and the quitters in the same light again. 

My administration showed us L. Todd Rose’s video below at our opening staff meeting.  It is what made me read more about him and find the book.  Of course, after the video, I went back to prepare for my first unit that that was given to me by the district and “designed to the middle.”  You need to watch the video to get that 😉  Just watch up to the 6 minute mark…It will be worth your time.


A couple other posts I have written on “square pegs:”
One Size Does not Fit All…
“Fix the hole, not the peg”

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