On Student Apathy
At LAS, we are curious about our students’ narratives, and one of our goals is to understand how they learn from their perspectives. Educational Coaches meet students where they are and work together to delve into presenting concerns. With a student-centered approach, the goals include developing sustainable and attainable goals that target the students’ personal, academic, and professional lives.
Apathy’, ‘indifference ‘, and ‘unmotivated’ are all terms we use to describe students’ disengagement with their education. Perhaps the question is not “why are students apathetic?” but rather: what present conditions are inhibiting participation and limiting achievement?
Apathy is what we see, but what is happening underneath?
During coaching, we often confront moderate to significant levels of student apathy. This presents as: a backlog of incomplete/tardy homework assignments; late initiation or procrastination on long-term and multi-step projects; disorganized materials and folders; hesitation or disinterest in seeking assistance from teachers and other support staff; etc.
Dedicated executive functioning coaching addresses these areas. Students and coaches develop a workflow that is flexible yet supportive to students’ needs. We invite students to be co-collaborators in their plans to support agency and self-initiation.
Some examples of this work include:
- Building a checklist in a shared task manager that students can update
- Breaking down assignments into smaller goals with mini deadlines to avoid procrastination and cramming
- Estimating the length of time a student needs to complete a task and scheduling that time for work, as well as scheduling time for leisure and rest
- Setting reminders and building a calendar of deadlines and due datesEnsuring students are utilizing available resources and activating accommodations when necessary
- Planning ahead and adjusting workflow to accommodate changing expectations
- Providing accountability and guidance
However, frequently, students are contending with compounding barriers that disrupt learning and hinder achievement that go beyond executive functioning support. The ‘apathy’ presented is more complicated than general disinterest in school obligations.
As such, educational therapy and coaching interventions include a holistic approach. In particular, mental health is an essential component to the work we do. In the wake of the pandemic, educators and professionals across disciplines are shining a light on adolescent mental health realities, behaviors, and learning experiences. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) tracks trends and has reported that “nearly half of students felt persistently sad or hopeless.”
This statistic has pressing implications for the work educators and instructional coaches do. LAS echos the CDC’s recommendations of:
- Recognizing that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
- Empowering youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
When mental health needs are not met, students’ investment in their own education is jeopardized. The “apathy” we see may be the presentation of that persistent hopelessness. Powerlessness can look like indifference, so a holistic practice will support student empowerment and initiative in their own learning.
Thus, a component of all students’ plans is dedicated time to address stress management and create a routine to develop self-care practices. Self-care goals are individualized and could be: prioritizing a sleep schedule and nutrition; making time for fitness, movement, meditation; dedicating time to activities and hobbies that bring joy; etc. Additionally, we may refer students to mental health services.
Also, comprehensive meta-analysis research also points to “relatedness, competency, and autonomy” as being foundational to student intrinsic motivation–motivation that is often considered absent in the face of persistent apathy. Therefore, building a routine that supports executive functioning and mental health is imperative when improving academic and personal well-being, resilience, and achievement.
Ultimately, as educators, parents, guardians, and educational professionals, we are invested in student learning and well-being; a part of that promise is to inquire more deeply about what we see. Apathy is often a manifestation of a variety of conditions, so being curious and supportive is key to developing the necessary support systems for students.