Earlier this month, I became the proud owner of a new cat. To be honest, this wasn’t exactly my choice. My sister recently moved and needed someone to watch her cat for a few months while the family got settled. Since the rest of my siblings already have pets, the responsibility fell to me. So, how has the experience been going you might ask?

Well, my furniture has been torn to shreds. There’s cat hair everywhere, and at any moment a fuzzy projectile will come careening around the corner as though chased by an invisible dog. It’s been a lot, but it has also been a valuable exercise in personal responsibility. We can often underestimate how adding even one new task to our daily routine can challenge us to grow. And as an educator, I’ve found myself reflecting on how this very principle translates to our work in the classroom.

Student Growth

Teaching responsibility is a crucial part of student development. Traditional subjects like science and math are important, but the long-term success of students will ultimately depend on social-emotional skills like communication, empathy, and responsible decision-making. After all, what good is academic knowledge if an individual can’t demonstrate accountability or teamwork? But responsibility isn’t something that can be taught through a textbook. If we’re to help our students mature as individuals, educators will need to think outside the box.

So, to help your students develop their sense of responsibility, consider implementing one of these strategies:

  • 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 actions. Then, have them carry out the necessary steps with everyone who was impacted. 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 giving your students choice and control in their lessons. Still, when you give your students the opportunity to grow, you may find that a little responsibility was exactly what they needed!

*Image by Alvesgasper courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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