Teaching Responsibility

ResponsibilityThe pages of Spiderman always seemed to sum it up the best:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”

But how do you teach responsibility?  It’s a question I’ve struggled with as an educator since my first day of student teaching, and it’s even more pressing now as a father.  Uncle Ben had to die before Peter Parker came to his conclusion, so for my brother’s sake, I need to get the message across to Quinn and Sam in a less dramatic way.  I always tried to teach responsibility in my classroom, but I doubt that I succeeded.

There were point sheets, class incentives, and the occasional bribe.  I designed my own currency (“HopCash”) and created an elaborate token economy.  We faithfully recited our PBIS motto each morning, and I dutifully delivered our explicit social skills lesson every few weeks.  I wouldn’t hesitate to call parents or assign extra work to hold students accountable, and regrettably, sometimes I did it in front of the class.  (If you fail to see why that’s such a bad idea, take a few moments to read this excellent blog post by Chad Donohue and decide if you’re creating a psychologically safe learning environment.)

If any of this actually taught my students responsibility, I’m convinced their learning was entirely incidental.  The rewards taught them the value of compliance, that following rules was the way to get ahead in school.  The punishments just gave them a reason not to get caught, which ironically, showed me just how clever some of them could be.  I came closest to teaching responsibility with the social skills lessons, but since they were often taught in isolation, it rarely resulted in lasting behavior change.

So what to do?  How can I teach responsibility to my kids without a tragic, life-altering event or a disjointed system of carrots and sticks?  I’ve come to the conclusion that the magic bullet doesn’t exist.  Simply take advantage of life’s teachable moments, but don’t use them as an opportunity to humiliate or demean.  Always model responsible behavior, and when you make a mistake, own up to it.   That last action is probably the most important, for to teach responsibility is to take responsibility, even for those actions that we later regret.



The Interview Game: Episode 2

The kids didn’t take to The Interview Game quite as enthusiastically the second time around.  Being tired will do that to a five year old, so it’s strange that filming was the calmest part of our evening.  Inspired by this post on TeachThought, I swapped the hat for a pair of homemade question dice.  With the blind draw out of the equation, the boys learned to manipulate the outcome pretty quickly.  Quinn was eager to answer one question in particular.  Enjoy the results, and let us know what you think of our efforts.


The Interview Game: Episode 1

I am inspired by my children.  The world is still so new to them at five years old, yet they seem capable of some of the most profound commentary on life.  They are in a state of near constant cognitive dissonance since each day brings new experiences that must be weighed against limited prior knowledge.  When a breakthrough happens and their minds coalesce on a simple truth, it’s an incredible thing to witness…often with hilarious results.

Unfortunately, as a father, I’ve done a poor job of capturing these moments.  I talk AT them all the time, but it’s rare that I talk WITH them or allow them to express THEIR VOICE.   (Too many teachers do the same, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Enter The Interview Game, a simple idea that promises to inspire blog entries for years to come.  Throw a dozen open-ended questions into a hat, ask the child to pick one, and record their responses.  Crafting the right types of questions was harder than anticipated, and it took a conscious effort not to influence their reasoning with any adult logic.  I invite you to take a few minutes and enjoy the results of our efforts.  I’m convinced that I’ve stumbled upon a gold mine, so look for episode 2 next week.