With 1:1 devices in the classroom, teachers have run across a new challenge that is also an old one. Too often, students come to class unprepared to use the device—most of the time it is not charged, and other times it may be left at home. These devices are critically important to learning. A teacher with a lesson planned on Google Classroom can't just run an extra copy if a student has a dead battery.
What Is a Teacher to Do?
Most teachers allow students to circle around outlets in the classroom. The learning is more important than teaching a lesson in responsibility and preparedness. It's just like a student forgetting a pencil and a teacher just giving them one—the logic is that the learning is most important and that the lesson about being responsible can come at another time.
The struggle for some teachers is that the responsibility part never seems to improve. The same students are always unprepared, and without a consequence—logical or otherwise—it can become frustrating to enable students in this way. One answer to help support teachers and students is to explicitly teach and track personal responsibility.
But how do we push students to become more responsible while at the same time being developmentally appropriate in our expectations? We don't want to push students too far and expect too much, but we also don't want to baby or enable them. One of the challenges we find is that there can be different parent expectations when it comes to personal responsibility. Because of this, we must communicate exactly what we expect from students and why we expect it.
Supporting Students While Setting Expectations
Let’s consider a common language and understanding that we expect from students when we use the term “personal responsibility.” I think for most teachers, it means students are able to take care of the needs of the classroom mostly independently. All students need help at times, and of course teachers are there to assist in all of these situations. What we want to avoid are chronic situations of students not paying attention or always missing the same assignments.
It is also important to note that in these situations, teachers should try to determine whether a student “can't do” something, or just “won't do” something when it comes to being responsible. Is the homework not being returned because the student is unable to complete it, or is the student just not being responsible with what they need to do?
There are some practical strategies for supporting our students in becoming more responsible, such as teaching the skill. It’s important to remember that behavioral skills must be taught just like academic skills—if we are interested in students becoming responsible, we need to teach them how to do so. Part of responsibility is organization, so start by teaching students how to be organized. This could be through color-coded folders, the use of a planner, or daily reminders on the board. There are all sorts of methods that teachers can use to help support students with learning these skills, but many students will need to be shown more than once. There must also be some accountability for this on the teacher’s end—some examples of this are to grade or check planners, check homework daily, and follow through with the students who do not get parent signatures.
Reinforcing Good Behavior
To learn repetitive behaviors, most students respond well to rewards and positive reinforcers. Teachers can “spot check” the items listed above and use any small tokens for reinforcement. Being strategic, teachers should “front-load” these at the start of the year as the skills are first being learned. If checks are random, remember to check a few times right after a long break—these are times when responsibility will wane and the reminders will be most important.
We must also give students the chance to fail and to know the logical consequences of failure. As an adult, it hurts when I am not responsible. It is good that I learned this lesson from my teachers early on and “paid for it” through my grades or other consequences. Teachers and parents cannot do too much for students, otherwise the responsibility switches from the student back to the teacher or parent
Of course, as teachers we connect with and love our kids We are empathetic and try to understand the students’ vantage point, so we know that some of their struggle to develop responsibility comes from home. It is vitally important not to lower standards for students who struggle with being responsible. Yes, some students are blessed with strong structural support at home, which enables them to have success in the classroom. Other students may not have this kind of support—but even without this, we cannot accept a lack of responsible behavior from them. It is truly a key to their future success and more important than many of the academic skills we focus on. By developing a plan, holding students accountable, and maintaining high standards, we can make gains with students to develop more responsible practices in the classroom and in life.
How have you taught personal responsibility in your classroom? Let us know in the comments below! For more insightful teaching tips, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog today.