Testing the Limits of Students’ Capacity

Most of time they will rise to wherever I set the bar. I’ll say to them, "I’ve set the bar very high. Don’t be worried if you don’t rise to the bar. By the end of the year you will rise to it". We’re not handcuffed by grades or the curriculum. We are on a journey together. I make sure the curriculum is covered but I want to take advantage of learning opportunities that present themselves. The administration supports anything as long as there is a good logic and the kids are safe.

– Elementary teacher

As adults, we are continuously assessing the limits of students’ capacity to guide us in offering support and setting parameters. Sometimes, adults can get caught in a vicious cycle: we are reluctant to give youth opportunities, so they do not have opportunities to acquire certain skills (such as planning, problem-solving and decision-making). If students shirk their responsibilities or fail in meeting their goals, this further feeds our distrust and lack of belief in them.

Teachers who are allies, who are committed to creating conditions that foster students’ empowerment can question and expand their fixed ideas about student capacity. Accepting that we have all absorbed attitudes founded on adultism, we can challenge these and encourage students to "dream big", letting their interests, insights, goals and passions predominate.

Once students have identified their dreams and goals, our job is to provide a context that offers young people the skills, information and support they need to help realize these, testing the range and limits of their capacity. While students may well overreach themselves (as we all do from time to time), there is value and learning to be gleaned from this. The situation is rarely lost.