So What Can We Control? Articulating our Locus of Control

Often, especially when first beginning the process of collaboratively focusing upon the diverse needs of students, participants can become discouraged if they focus on factors largely outside of their control. In our experience, we’ve heard this fear manifested in comments such as “What can we do if his parents refuse to ever read with him at home?” “You know, he’s always 20 minutes late every day, missing important instructional time.” “He’s playing on three different sports teams – no wonder he can’t complete any assignments.” and so on.

When staff members place an inordinate amount of their focus on such factors, a feeling of hopelessness takes over and we resign ourselves to “fighting a losing battle.” Instead, school leaders must focus on what teachers in schools can control – after all, we typically have more than six hours a day to make a difference, which is monumental in relation to student learning.

A whole staff activity (for a staff meeting or planning day) that can help staff place their focus on what they can control is called “The Locus of Control.”

  • First, ask staff members to consider all the reasons for students’ lack of success in Think about students in their own classrooms and in others. Provide two examples, such as “Arrives late to school.” and “Can’t read the textbook.” to prompt thinking (ensuring that the two examples include one outside of the control of the staff and one that is in control of the staff, such as the examples provided).
  • Individually, in partners or in small groups, write all the reasons for students’ lack of success on post-it notes, with each post-it note containing one Allow ample time for discussion as the reasons are written. Have them keep the post-it notes.
  • Provide a large visual of two concentric circles (or access a template). Instruct staff to come up to place their post-it notes:
    • Outside the circles if completely outside of the control of the school (we can’t do anything about it).
    • Inside the first circle if we have some control over it (i.e. “Student forgets homework” – we could call home to have parents help remind the student, although this may or may not be effective).
    • Inside the second circle if we do have control over it (i.e. “Student can’t read the textbook” – we purchase or create an audio version).
  • Group the post-it notes into common themes or reasons to generate discussion. A follow-up could include creating a reproduction of this for staff, detailing when things are outside of our control, what we have some control over and what is within our control. Another follow-up activity would be to have a discussion related to what we can do about those things we have some or full control.
  • A final consideration is making a master document of the issues we are identifying that are in our control, that could serve as suggestions or considerations when determining key issues for the collaborative team meeting conversation.

The purpose of this activity is two-fold. First, it allows us to “let go” of things outside our control. Why waste our energy discussing or attempting to address things outside our control? Second, it highlights a number of things we do have control over; and, these are where we should be placing our energies. Specifically, we put energy into reasons for lack of student success that are completely within our control. This activity serves as a powerful reminder to staff that we are in control of a great deal and can make a monumental difference once we recognize and act on what we can control

Adapted from pages 127-128 of the book Collaborative Response: Three Foundational Components That Transform How We Respond to the Needs of Learners

Author: Kurtis Hewson