Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Taking Initiative

Initiative is doing the right thing without being told. ~Victor Hugo

This past month, as advisor to NHS/NJHS, I prodded the students through the process of organizing a health fair. When the day finally arrived, we had 15 exhibitors and the majority of attendees came from within our school community. The goal of the fair was to get the larger community, outside of school, to see what health, fitness and wellness resources were available. Overall, for the first health fair at school, it was successful. The exhibitors stated that they enjoyed the opportunity to network with each other and our own students learned a lot. However, as a NHS/NJHS activity, I was frustrated by the lack of initiative exhibited by the students, which set me pondering – how do we teach initiative?

One of the four pillars of NHS/NJHS is leadership, which does include demonstrating initiative in promoting school activities. But what does that mean? According to dictionary.com the definition of initiative is: The power or ability to begin or to follow through energetically with a plan or task; enterprise and determination.

Let's look at follow through. In the classroom, teachers give assignments and a due date, students turn in work and the teacher grades it. Once the grade is given, the assignment is over. This is the typical cycle of education. So if there are mistakes, are students expected to follow through on their learning - to make correctly, enhance their learning and truly take the assignment to its completion? In my experience, most students don't even bother to read my commentary on an assignment unless I specifically assign revision with a due date.

The next part is energetically. That would indicate that someone is doing something with passion or interest. Again, quite often students complete work because they have to, it may be on the test, or its for a grade. Many students don't feel they need to complete work if “it doesn't count” towards the grade. Why has the grade become the goal rather than the learning?

So, the big question is, how do we “teach” initiative? Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” This sounds more like it needs modeling rather than teaching.

"Do it right - Do it now" by SmartLeadership.com


  1. The questions and information you posted in your blog were very thought provoking. I enjoyed the link you posted on the bottom about how to actually teach initiative. Thanks for a great entry! I mentioned it in my blog today, check it out!

  2. Dear Mrs. Poraths,

    Greetings from Thailand. I read through some of your articles and realized that you are a 'guru' (in your own right) of "affective teaching". I have recently started a webpage to post articles on affective teaching.

    I am also releasing a book next month entitled: How to become a caring teacher: A daily guide for highly affective teaching.

    I look forward to collaborate with you in any way possible. Please let me know if you will be interested in the book.

    Thank you for your inspiring articles! Keep it up.


  3. Lauren,
    Thank you for the link on your site. I'm still pondering this issue, as I have students from very privilaged homes. As a school, we struggle with helping students learn to take pride in their own work, follow through with work, even when it is difficult, and to be willing to go beyond the minimum requirements.