Excuses disempower. Taking responsibility empowers.
At Michaela, we have a no excuses culture. What does this mean? It means if a pupil does something wrong, we expect them to own that mistake. We do not expect them to deflect responsibility. We do not expect them to blame other people or their circumstances.
If they have no pen, rather than saying “my pen dropped out of my blazer overnight”, we want pupils to say “I didn’t check my equipment before I left this morning”. We want them to think “I’ll get to school 5 minutes early so I’ve got time to buy a pen from the stationery shop”.
No excuses does not mean we leave children to fail. We do everything we can to help our pupils succeed. The example of the stationery shop illustrates that on a small scale. We open the stationery shop in the office before school everyday so pupils have a chance to fix the problem. So Sue’s example doesn’t seem relevant. Were someone to lose their uniform in a fire, we would, of course support them in finding a solution.
These concepts are not in opposition; in fact, they complement each other. Turns out solutions are a lot easier to generate once a pupil has stopped deflecting responsibility. Taking responsibility, accepting the reality of the situation is often the first step in getting it right.
No excuses is empowering. If you believe a problem is the product of things you cannot control, you place the issue outside of your locus of control. Once you have placed it outside of your locus of control, you have mentally decided you cannot take steps to change it. If you recognise how your actions contributed to causing the problem, you can decide to change that in the future. How wonderful it is to recognise how much you can impact the world!
Excuses are rife in too many schools.
“I couldn’t help turning round; they called my name”
“I didn’t know what page to do for homework”
“The queue in the canteen made me late for period 5”
“My computer crashed with my coursework on it”
As teachers, we can indulge these excuses, or we can reject them. We can show pupils how different choices could have avoided the situation. We can enlighten them to let them see how they have more control and agency over their life they might initially believe.
Getting pupils to see the value of taking responsibility is one of the most valuable gifts we can give them. How much richer their lives will be, in every aspect, if they approach the world seeing what they can change rather than what they can’t.