With schools closed, many students are facing a novel situation: Teachers aren’t requiring them to do work. True, some private schools are giving graded homework and tests, but so far most public schools are only providing optional work. Some have started calling this optional work “expected” to encourage students to do it. But since not everyone has access to a computer with the internet, making this work truly required and graded would be inequitable. So, at least for now, schoolwork has become optional.
To students in this situation, my response is simple: Pretend it counts.
Pretend you’re still getting graded. Pretend there are consequences for not showing up, for not doing the work, for not doing your best. Pretend it counts, and you’ll continue to learn and grow as a student. Pretend it counts, and you’ll be in a better position when things finally return to normal. Pretend it counts, and you’ll be making the most of this unfortunate situation.
You’re Stronger Than You Realize
Doing schoolwork that no one is making you do might seem beyond what you’re capable of, but I think you’re already better at this sort of thing than you realize.
Do you only exercise when your PE teacher or sports coach makes you? I bet not.
Do you only do chores when your parents make you? I hope not.
I think you’re perfectly capable of doing schoolwork that isn’t required; it’s just that you don’t have much practice yet.
This is an Opportunity
I wrote before about how this crisis is an opportunity to become more skilled at independent learning.
Well, it’s also an opportunity to cultivate a more empowering identity. It’s one thing to do your homework and study when there’s a grade attached to it. It’s another thing to do that when there’s not. Doing the former reinforces an outcome-based identity: You’re a good student because you get good grades. Doing the latter reinforces a process-based identity: You’re a good student because you’re dedicated to relentless learning even when no one is grading you.
And doing the work when no one is making you takes willpower, so this crisis is also an opportunity to increase your willpower by using it.
You’ve been led to believe school is all about the grades you earn. It’s not. School is meant to be cross-training for your brain. School is about who you become through your efforts. School is about preparing your mind for the rest of your life. And you have the power to continue that mission even when school is closed.
Everything you do as a student, whether it’s graded or not, is part of your growth. With every moment, with every choice, you have an opportunity to move forward, to learn, to strengthen your brain muscles.
So you might as well pretend the optional work counts because, in the end, everything counts.
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014. Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
He writes the popular self-improvement blog Becoming Better, so if you liked this article, head on over to becomingbetter.org and check out his other work.
Chris also offers habit coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA, where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.