As a new teacher, I was prepared for students being way behind academically. What I was unprepared for was the main reason for this. No, not that they were unmotivated or their parents were unsupportive or the administration was incompetent. The biggest reason for students’ academic deficits was their work habit deficits. Dependability. Punctuality. Organization. You name it, my students lacked it. And like many teachers, I responded with exasperation and resignation. Finally, after a couple years, I decided to make students’ work habit deficits as high a priority for me as their academic deficits. And the work habit I targeted most was what I’ve referred to over the years as “The Fourth R”: resourcefulness.
Why resourcefulness? Two reasons. First, many of my students—high school students, no less—had no clue how to even use a glossary. And second, the most successful people in my prior business experience didn’t always know the answer but knew how to find it. I thus set out to create a classroom where students would make the connection between resourcefulness and success. Whereas, for example, I previously harped on kids for not taking—let alone using—notes, I now gave open-note quizzes and tests. So what if they couldn’t use those notes on standardized tests? I figured the more students looked things up, the more they’d learn and remember. And sure enough, proficiency rates among my students were soon twice the school average. Yet just as validating to me as how students did was what they said, including the greatest “compliment” I ever received: “You’re not a very good teacher, but I learn a lot in your classroom.”
Reflecting on the impact of stressing resourcefulness in my classroom (and in classrooms of teachers I’ve coached), I now realize it’s not the fourth ‘”r” after all. It’s the first one, since kids will never read, write, or do math to their potential without it.