How to Create a Classroom Culture of Responsibility
As educators, it’s natural to want our classrooms to reflect students’ success. We ensure students have clear directions and deadlines for their assignments, plenty of resources to support their learning, and feedback to guide their progress—but while we’re supporting student success in the short term, we also need to have an eye toward the long term. After all, when students leave our classrooms, we want them to have the tools—and the drive—to keep learning throughout their lives.
A newfound focus on personalized learning and educational technology is helping educators equip their students for a lifetime of learning. By emphasizing personal responsibility, teaching self-motivation, and empowering students’ role in the classroom, educators can guide their students to discover who they are as learners. Read on to learn how creating a classroom culture of responsibility helps students develop a positive approach to learning in school and beyond.
If we want our students to be lifelong learners, they need to take personal responsibility for creating and sustaining an educational mindset. Outside the classroom walls, real-world learners discover what they want to know, set their own goals, and hold themselves accountable for each step of the learning process. Although it can be easy for students of all ages to make excuses for missed work or poor performance, fostering a sense of personal responsibility will help students get themselves back on track.
To teach this skill, the National Education Association recommends holding students accountable for their work. This means that in addition to accepting responsibility for a poor grade, students should develop a plan to improve their work—much like they would be asked to do as adults cited for sub-par employee performance in the workplace. According to the NEA, “Accountability breeds responsibility, and students who develop the tools to target and improve their academic shortcomings will, in turn, develop the skills they need to go far in life.”
Before students can take charge of their own learning, they need to see themselves as partners in their education. After graduation, students will be responsible for identifying what they need to learn, seeking out new educational opportunities, and staying motivated to learn the material. Students who are used to viewing themselves as experts in their interests, strengths, and needs will be better equipped to approach learning in their adult lives.
Personalized learning approaches—such as the Center for Applied Special Technology’s Universal Design for Learning—treat students as partners with their teachers. The idea is for students to work with teachers, identifying strengths and challenges and creating learning goals. According to the Institute for Personalized Learning, “During this process, the learner gains new skills and strategies as challenges turn into strengths and the partnership with the teacher grows stronger. When this happens, the learner is truly on their path to become a self-directed learner with agency.” Adults with the ability to identify and address their own educational needs will be in a better position to maintain a lifetime of learning.
Perhaps the most important gift we can give our students is to empower them as learners. Too often, students can get stuck on areas in which they feel deficient, such as time management or following oral directions. Teaching our students how to work with their challenges empowers them to continue taking on new opportunities.
For example, middle school teacher Amber Chandler shows us that we can use both educational technology and personalized learning to help students manage their own learning—and, in turn, to develop the project management skills they’ll need as adults. In her article Project Management Solutions for the 21st-Century student, Chandler shares how she uses Google Calendar and pre-set reminders to help students keep track of schoolwork and activities. Additionally, she structures her classroom in much the same way as an adult workspace: Assignments are accepted within a range of due dates, and classroom roles could double as job titles (Project Manager, Technology Coordinator, and Lead Presenter, to name a few). The students in Chandler’s class not only benefit from a more independent, flexible classroom space, they are also preparing for the responsibilities of adult life.
Taking charge of classroom culture goes beyond ensuring a smooth school year—it can help us lay the groundwork for students’ lifelong learning habits. Through the use of technology and personalized learning approaches, we can show students how to stay motivated, take responsibility for their work, and take charge of their own learning. These are the lifelong learning skills our students will draw upon long after they leave our classrooms.
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