Most would agree that ‘initiative’ is the core value to be encouraged and rewarded. In today’s busy world, for parents and teachers, compliance is generally more highly valued as it makes our lives easier, leads to predictable outcomes, and doesn’t interrupt the flow of activity.
It is interesting how adults unconsciously encourage compliance in their day to day interactions. When a child proposes a new approach or initiative, 95% of the time, the answer will be NO! A YES answer means that you have to do something – taking a risk, setting up different boundaries, or tracking new outcomes etc. A NO answer reinforces the status quo and makes the issue ‘go away’. Compliance reigns!
Interestingly, in an increasingly competitive environment, initiative has become the highly prized value in today’s workplace. If our children are going to be successful in their workplace, parents and teachers must shift and begin to value initiative, creativity and risk-taking. Rewarding compliance no longer prepares our children for success.
To encourage initiative in a child, there must be an atmosphere of trust, support and freedom from ridicule. There are a number of ways to encourage initiative and achieve positive outcomes both at home and at school.
At home, parents who want to encourage initiative need to change the style of their verbal interactions with children, and with each other.
- Start, by asking questions that require a response in a full sentence with an opinion, rather than a Yes or No answer. This encourages growth in oral language, and lets your child know that you value their thoughts and opinions enough to take the time to listen to their answers.
- When your child does take a risk with their thinking or responses, be encouraging and, if appropriate, ask for further input and clarification.
- Should your child say “I don’t know”, you can either accept that answer, ask leading questions to stimulate further thinking, or give permission for risk-taking by saying, “If you did know the answer, what do you think it would be?”
- If your child asks to try a different approach, be open and flexible, when it doesn’t impact safety or interfere with the rights of others.
- When one establishes an attitude of risk-taking in your home, you must also embrace the concept that mistakes are part of a process, leading to new opportunities and often interesting results.
At school, instilling a risk-taking environment starts with co-operatively setting up classroom objectives rather than simply imposing a set of firm rules. For example, an objective might be that no one has the right to interfere with the learning of another, which is very different to saying the classroom must be a quiet workplace.
Teacher language should be supportive and encouraging of student ideas. When students realize that their mistakes are simply part of the learning process, and that they are pushing back the boundaries to their current knowledge base and skills, they are more than willing to try out new ideas or create initiatives on their own.
When initiative is nurtured and prioritized, this value can easily become a critical foundation in any successful academic setting, which readily translates into improved learning curves for all.
We owe it to our children, the next generation, to proactively instill the value of initiative and risk-taking into the attitudes and language in our homes and schools. Our children deserve nothing less than our best!
Mrs. L. Sweet M.S. Ed.
Director Glenburnie School