What Teachers Can Do to Promote Responsibility

I always say that responsibility is taken, never given or told. In other words, using outdated discipline techniques like imposed punishments and rewards won’t result in students acting responsibly. They must have the internal motivation to want to act a certain way.

With that said, there are things teachers can do to create an environment that fosters their students’ desire to be responsible. Here are a few:

  • When a student acts out, before resorting to the usual discipline techniques, remember that no one comes to school to get into trouble. Think of students as lacking skills to handle impulses—or that the behavior is the student’s best effort at the time to handle a frustration. Few students are maliciously disruptive.
  • Speaking of an inability to handle impulses, teach students impulse management. The conversation sounds something like, “Every time you stick your foot out to trip your friend, you are a victim of your impulses. Do you really want to go through life being a victim? If not, let’s establish a procedure so that when you get that impulse, you can redirect it. For example, picture and feel your foot chained to the floor. That image will help you to be in control, rather than be a victim of an impulse.”
  • If a student can’t seem to focus, use labeling. Teach students to label any distraction as “distraction.” Show students how to keep a record of them. Tracking distractions increases the likelihood that students will stop and think about what they are doing. This helps them reflect and make more appropriate choices so they don’t end up in discipline situations.
  • Reflect on your own goal of the interaction you’re having with a student. Your goal will direct how you handle the situation. If your desire is to help the student, then be willing to negotiate. There may be factors involved of which you are unaware.
  • Finally, improve your relationship by quietly tutoring at the student’s desk—or in private.