Culture of Consumption or Culture of Contribution?

We are consumers by nature. We consume the basics, such as water. We are consumers in the retail world, making purchases daily. We also take in the energy of others, becoming inspired or tired (depending on the type of energy around us). Think about it…we take so much in from the time we wake until we lay our heads down to sleep. Much of our consumption is necessary in order for us to survive and thrive in particular conditions, but some of it is based on wants.  I didn’t need the extra brownie I had on Christmas Eve, or the donut I had for breakfast this morning (I am on holiday break…no judging allowed!), but I consumed them anyway! Think about this…

How much do we contribute on a daily basis? Is it more than what we take in?

Consumption is natural, because we were created to survive and to have a desire to thrive. It is part of our instinct as humans to seek what we need in order to live comfortably. Contribution is different…it is based on emotions, rather than physical needs and wants. Giving back doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and our children will definitely not understand its importance unless they are immersed in a giving environment.

Think of the child or colleague in your school who consumes soooooooooooo much of your time, patience, and energy (my finger didn’t get stuck on the ‘o’, by the way!)  . Take, take, take. Every. Single. Day. Does contributing come easily for that person? Do they naturally think of others? Probably not, and there could be many reasons for that. Maybe they are ‘consumed’ by stress or anxiety. Maybe they don’t live in a giving home. It is tempting to cut this person off when you get to your wit’s end, isn’t it? Human nature causes us to feel that way! But…

What if that person needs much more than you? What if your patience and investment is just what is needed for that person to become more aware?

Gut Check.

My experience with people throughout my lifetime has taught me four important things:

  • The people who push us away the hardest are often the people who need us the most.
  • The people who seem the most needy are often the people who need us the most.
  • Both types are consumers of our energy, but need us to continue investing in them.
  • If we give up on either, we send the message that contribution is finite.

Gut Check…again.

parker flagDo we want our schools to be filled with consumers or contributors? Kids must consume knowledge and content, but that is one sliver of the school pie. The remaining portion is what we should be doing to help kids become contributors to their peers, classroom, school, and community. Modeling how to give back based on what kids are learning, makes the learning relevant and more likely to be applied. Kids need to learn how to multiply and divide, but how powerful is that learning when they know how to use it for giving back to something bigger? Learning in isolation is consumption. Learning with connections is contribution.

Imagine a school with a healthy and giving culture. Kids equate learning to becoming better prepared to help or serve in some way. They equate learning to a future story, establishing dreams and goals of a career based on something they are passionate about. Empathy is woven into all aspects of learning, and tolerance is evident because all are accepted.

How do we get there? It isn’t through daily bell ringers, homework assignments, class work, lectures, standardized tests, or grades. If you took a poll with a group of kids you know, would they say these things about school? Is this what they feel school is?

How do we get to that culture where school is about learning and contribution, rather than consumption and production?

We can focus more on

  • social emotional learning
  • teaching tolerance and empathy
  • empowering children to self regulate
  • restorative practices for supporting kids’ behavior
  • setting academic and personal development goals
  • standards based learning
  • interdisciplinary teaching
  • collaborative nature between teachers and kids
  • family engagement, rather than parent involvement
  • looking beyond the quantitative data to the social history of kids
  • view kids and staff as leaders, and expect them to take on leadership roles
  • teacher as facilitator and collaborator
  • opportunities for students’ voices to be heard
  • service to school and community

Everything listed is possible, but only if we consider thinking beyond the current reality of mandates and accountability systems. We must demand more than producing consumers, and establish a vision of empowering contributors. What better time to begin than NOW?

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