Earlier this week I became a brand-new dog owner. To be honest, this wasn’t exactly my choice. My parents have recently retired and wanted to spend some time traveling. As the rest of my siblings are all cat owners, the responsibility of watching their dog fell to me. So, how has the experience been going you might ask?
While being a dog owner is fun, it’s also been a valuable lesson in responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fully competent adult who’s more than capable of paying his bills and shopping for groceries. Still, it’s amazing how adding one new task to a daily routine can challenge someone to grow. I’ve had to sharpen my time management skills to a razor’s edge. It takes a surprising amount of attention and energy to walk, feed, and care for a dog. This experience has also gotten me thinking about student responsibility in the classroom.
Chores and Contracts
A key part of student development is teaching responsibility. This often gets overlooked in favor of more traditional subjects like science or math, but it’s just as (if not more) important to their long-term success. A student who can calculate vast sums and navigate technology, but refuses to demonstrate accountability or trust, will not get very far in life. But responsibility isn’t something that can be taught in a traditional fashion. If we’re to help our students mature as individuals, educators will need to think outside the box.
Here are just a few strategies for helping students develop their sense of responsibility:
- Class Pet: As I mentioned earlier, caring for a pet takes a good deal of time and attention. A class pet can go a long way in building your students’ sense of responsibility. Assign each student a specific day when the classroom pet is under their care. If this feels like too much pressure, you could simply assign them tasks like making sure they have food or water. By committing to these small chores, students will start to understand that their actions matter and have consequences.
- Social Contracts: One technique that has proven useful is to include students in the rule-making process. At the beginning of the year, work with your students to create a set of rules for your classroom. This will give your students a sense of accountability. They helped create the rules, so they are responsible for following and upholding them.
- Celebrating Good Behavior: Set up a system which celebrates good behavior within your classroom. For example, if a student has demonstrated good behavior, make a call to their home and tell their parents what a great student they are. This kind of reinforcement can incentivize students to avoid misbehaving while also allowing them to strengthen personal relationships.
- Repairing Harm: With this practice, a student who has misbehaved is tasked with figuring out how to repair whatever damage was caused by their behavior. Then, have them carry out the necessary steps with everyone who was impacted by their actions. If they disrupted a class, have them apologize to their fellow students. If they broke someone’s project, they need to help fix it. Use this opportunity to develop their social-emotional skills and teach them how to acknowledge their mistakes.
Time to Get Started
Teaching responsibility isn’t easy. Sometimes it involves challenging your students and pushing them to step outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes it means letting go of control and giving your students choice in their lessons. Other times it involves a lot of new dog hair in your home. Yet, when you give your students the opportunity to grow, you may find that a little responsibility was exactly what they needed!
*Today’s image is brought to you from Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Get your copy today!