Brian Nichols

Principal or Asst Prin - Elem

Newport News, VA

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 7 Years ago
  • 3.2k

Shifting from At-Risk to School-Dependent

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I believe that the words you use are extremely powerful.  The message you construct for your staff, community, etc. should reflect the vision/mission of the school.  There is a term that is frequently used that I am officially banning from my vocabulary.  The term I am referring to is 'at risk'. I spend a great deal of time talking to teachers, principals, etc. about students who are not successful.  Invariably, the discussion comes to the students being 'at risk'. 

I believe that all of our students are 'at risk' of something.  The term 'at risk' typically involves a list of things that we are not directly in control of.  While those variables may impact success, they are largely out of our control.  I find that success is directly tied to the effort put into your circle of influence.  The focus of our efforts as leaders should be on those variables that we do have control over.  Our superintendent introduced us to the term 'school dependent' children. 

We work with students each and every day that are 'school dependent'.  This simply means that their success/failure is dependent on the school that they attend.  After all, the greatest predictor of student success is the classroom teacher.  Yet, many conversations still focus on the factors that are outside of our control. 

This shift from 'at risk' to 'school dependent' puts the focus on the variables that we have control of.  These variables include:

  • quality of instruction
  • interventions provided
  • opportunities to engage in clubs/activities
  • mentorship programs
Many of our students our 'school dependent'.   Our conversations, initiatives, and development efforts MUST focus on the variables that we have control of.  Please join the movement! Let's acknowledge that there our factors outside of our control. Then move forward with the things that we are in charge of. Success is far more likely with this approach!


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02 Feb 11, 10:53 AM

Hi Brian! Excellent piece! I believe students are "at risk" when the adults around them (school, community, family) are unprepared to meet their needs. Too often that term is used as if it is a characteristic of the kids themselves rather than an often dismal reflection of adult priorities. I feel the same way about the term "baggage". So often it is subtly used to shift blame from adult decision makers to the kids themselves.

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02 Feb 11, 10:08 AM

Love it. Great point, Brian.

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