Teaching Responsibility and Accountability

I think responsibility and accountability go together. It just makes sense that someone who takes responsibility will also be accountable.  I do think we can model and teach these character traits to our students. I disagree with the concept that some people are born more responsible than others, but I realize that some people will never 'get it'.  To say, that someone doesn't have the ability to be responsible is just an excuse ( and don't get me started on what I think about excuses!).

To model responsibility, we need to take ownership of our mistakes and actions. Don't be so important that you can't admit to and apologize for your errors. We're all human and we all make them.  There have been times, my students will tell you, that I publicly apologized for making a mistake. I got the date of the assembly wrong, I made a discipline decision based only on what I had observed, not on all the facts, or (heaven forbid) I taught them the wrong way to punctuate. Life is all about making mistakes, admitting them, righting the wrongs, and learning from them. If we are afraid to be human enough to admit to failure, what will our kids think?

I agree that it is much easier to teach if all the adults in the building are modeling it. But, there are always a few that don't and those are the ones that get thrown in your face. "But, what about Mr. Jones? He never makes us turn our assignments in on time!"  Ouch!  How do you respectfully answer that and teach this student responsibility when it isn't expected of him all the time?  "I understand that Mr. Jones may not always expect this, but this is my class and I need to see your progress more frequently." That works, but in the student's mind, you're just an old stick in the mud who doesn't understand the younger generation.  To overcome this misconception, show your students why it is important to view their progress. Give them opportunities to correct and learn from their mistakes.

It is the same with discipline, which is almost a thing of the past. You consider it insubordination (I know, a strong word) for a student to repeatedly turn in assignments late, if at all.  It is insubordination. They are pushing the envelope just to see how far they can get in regards to the limits. We all have deadlines to meet- IEPs, grade reports, progress reports- and so do students. School is their work and the assignments are their responsibility (there it is again) to complete in a timely fashion. Would my principal overlook late progress reports quarter after quarter? No. So, why should we expect less from our students?  Back to the discipline for late or missing assignments. Turn it back around on the student. Ask them to determine what they should be held accountable for and how much of it is their responsibility to complete.  Ask them for a responsible solution. Doesn't work every time and usually doesn't work the first few times, but sooner or later, they will start saying, "I know this is my responsibility to complete," or "I know I will be held accountable for this."  Before you know it, they are modeling responsibility and accountability because they know what you expect. Again, this is hard to do without administrative support. It is really hard to tell a student what you expect when your building administrator doesn't hold students to the same level of accountability.

So, how do you teach responsibility and accountability? I think modeling and expecting it are the two best ways.  Let your students see you take responsibility for an action. Tell them about the things that you are accountable for. Use the words responsibility and accountability regularly in the classroom. Use them in reference to your job duties, expectations, and results. Show them and tell them that, as the teacher, you are held accountable for the student's safety and learning (among a million other things).  Playing educational games will also teach responsibility and accountability. Collaborative learning is a great way for students to experience how each team member has a responsibility to the team.  Any team activity your students participate in is a way for them to see that they play a role that is important to the team AND important for the team's success.

So, what will your students think of you if you raise your expectations? I know what my kids think of me. Some feel that I am stubborn and out of touch because I hold my ground for what I believe is right. Some feel that I was unfair with the consequence I gave them for their behavior.  But the majority have told me personally and in letters, "You may be strict, but you are fair and we always know where we stand with you", "You always tell us the truth and you teach us how to make mistakes and admit them and move on", "You've taught me respect", " You've taught me responsibility." Awww... there it is. Responsibility.  Good. I succeeded with some.

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  1. Another great post! I wish more parents would be on board with this too! My own child will be going to school in one year and I pray he has a teacher like you who will hold him accountable like I'm trying to teach him at home.

  2. Thank you! I also wish parents and teachers would work together for the sake of the child.


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