Teaching Responsibility in the Classroom

Chapter five of Learn Like a Pirate is all about responsibility in the classroom. Solarz writes about the importance of students being able to identify what needs to be done and figure out the best way to get it done without the help of the teacher.  The teacher will offer feedback when necessary but won't be upset when students make mistakes. Instead he will praise them for taking a risk. Isn't that the type of the student we all want? A student who can recognize a problem and find ways to remedy the problem? They will have to do this ALL the time as an adult so now is the time to show them how it is done while we are right there offering gentle feedback. When we entrust students with great responsibilities, they will almost always surpass our expectations! And the best way to teach responsibility is to design a classroom where students have lots of opportunities to be responsible and lead.

Although I have many challenges as a teacher, because we all do, I have always thought that encouraging student responsibility was one of my strengths. Coworkers often make comments like, "You're class is always so good. They could run the classroom without you!" Why, yes! I think they could. Still...as I read this chapter, I found lots of new ideas that will surely strengthen my students' responsibility.

Almost every teacher has classroom jobs. There are dozens of different titles and students are assigned to a job for a specified amount of time. So Mary is assigned to be the class librarian. Todd notices that the books in the library are a mess. But he isn't the librarian. So he doesn't touch the books. Maybe Mary will get to it on her own. Or, more likely, the teacher will have to ask Mary to pick up the library.

Solarz suggests a system where you have some assigned jobs, but the majority of the class jobs are collaborative. All of your students are responsible for all of the jobs in the classroom. So instead of having a class librarian, all students are responsible to making sure the library is clean. If Todd notices the mess, he makes sure to take care of the mess. No complaints like, "But it isn't my job!" The goal is for students to actively take care of the classroom rather than waiting for someone else to do it.  Obviously this type of classroom requires more training and modeling because a child's natural tendency is to be lazy. They might notice the messy library, but pretend they didn't. You will need to teach students everything that you expect to be done in the classroom. And you may need to have several class meetings to discuss their progress and make goals. Ultimately, this will be rewarding work because you are training students to be leaders!

What I am Already Doing:
I only assign two class helpers each day. It is a random rotation using student numbers. These students are responsible for taking the attendance, taking out the trash and passing out any supplies or papers.

All other jobs in the classroom are done collaboratively. No one person is assigned to them. This includes cleaning up games and centers, taking care of the classroom library, picking up supplies at the small group table, cleaning the floors, restocking supplies, etc.

What I Want to Add:
I still think that I am doing too much! Students are going to be doing more of the classroom jobs next year. I am going to have them run snack and restroom breaks, change out our calendar and centers at the end of the month, check in work, greet each student and answer the class telephone.

A ritual is similar to a routine, but they are motivating and looked forward to by the students. Having rituals in your classroom allows students to know what to expect and this can motivate them to take charge and get things done without being asked.

What I am Already Doing:
My students have small group rituals in reading and math. The rotation schedule is posted and therefore, students do not need me to tell them where to go. Activities do not change! They always have the same expectations in centers and therefore they know exactly what work needs to be done without asking. Students get out all of the manipulatives, books or technology that is required for their center.

When they finish their work, students know where to turn it in and enrichment activities that they can work on next. They will also put things away on their own when we are finished with centers.

At the meet the teacher table, students know to get started the moment that they get there. They don't need to wait for me. If we are doing reading centers, someone from the group will grab the box of their books, pass them out and students will begin discussing what they read the last time we met. If they finish that before I make it to the back table, they will start choral reading the next chapter. If we are doing math centers, students will begin cutting their notebook activity as soon as they get to the table. A member of the group will get the pencils, scissors and glue sponges out without being asked. No time is wasted because students know what is expected and get right to it. At the end of our time together, they will also collect the books, pencils, glue, etc and put them away.

I know that if I did not show up to small groups at all, my students would still be productive, inquisitive and responsible!

What I Want to Add:
I would like to have rituals for the start and end of the day. I feel we currently have routines, but not enough student motivation. I intend to have a student helper to greet students each morning and remind them of our class goals, just like Solarz does. At the end of the day, my students are great about cleaning up and packing up, but I want to add a reflection element to our end of day procedures. I want my daily helpers to lead a discussion where the class reflects on how they did with their daily goal. Then, the class will set their goal for the following day. I will just sit back and observe rather than being the one in charge. That's tough, but rewarding!

I LOVE this idea from chapter five! I mean I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! It doesn't even scare me! Solarz' class works toward earning a silent day. On silent day, the teacher does not talk from the moment class starts until dismissal. Nothing. No advise. No teaching. Nothing. Students run the entire show! Solarz has his silent day towards the end of the year when students are pros with the  classroom rituals. He also chooses to have it on a day of a math test so that math instruction is not necessary. Students give directions and pass out the tests. Otherwise, students are expected to follow the schedule and rituals to complete their work just as they would any other day.

This sounds like a great way to motivate students to continue practicing their responsibility and leadership skills through the year. We will be training for our silent day! It is also a great way to prove to them, at the end of the year, how responsible they have become. Can't wait!

How do you encourage and teach responsibility in your classroom?