Like other life skills, learning responsibility takes practice. It is complicated and takes time and practice. One definition of responsibility is to able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required. It implies both knowing what is right or expected and being able to do them reliably, in a way that others trust you will follow through. Students must also believe that they are capable, that they are response-able. It is often more efficient for educators, to manage daily activities and “work” in the classroom, but when we do, we rob them of the opportunity to build the character trait of responsibility. You can help your students develop responsibility:

  • Develop classroom guidelines with your students for creating an environment where everyone can learn.  This helps students connect with each other, and begin to take ownership of their classroom. If you need a lesson plan for the process, check out We Decided: Guidelines for our Classroom in Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers Guide.
  • Classroom jobs. If you don’t have them already, work with your students to make a list of all the jobs that need to be done in the classroom (collecting papers, sharpening pencils, filing paperwork, organizing library).  Develop a system for ensuring that each student has a job and rotate regularly. In some classrooms, the students write the job descriptions and have a short “training” period when jobs are rotated. There are lots of job ideas in Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers Guide.
  • Teach that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Create a learning environment where it is safe to make mistakes. Model mistakes and making repair. Help students identify mistakes made, and make a plan to fix the mistake and plan to do better the next time. When the shame of mistakes is minimized it leaves space for young people to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Use encouragement instead of praise. Use “I notice” or “I appreciate” statements without words like good, better or best. Avoid rewards and incentives. You build competence and confidence by letting students experience the satisfaction of trying and/or completing a responsibility.
  • Teach students how to work in groups. Learning in groups can be very empowering and it also takes practice. Helping students be aware of different roles in a group (e.g. facilitator, note taker, observer) and rotating those roles gives everyone practice and an opportunity to have different perspectives. Taking pride in the work of a group is another important life skill.
  • Take time to reflect and celebrate. Our society is good at moving through things quickly and sometimes we fail to pause and notice the effort and work that we put in to reach a certain point. Pausing and noticing what we have accomplished helps grow our confidence and ability to take on new challenges: to be responsible.