Eight students line up at the back of the classroom while I ask one of them, “Where would you like to sit today?” As she points to her choice of seating, another directs a question at me in spite: “Why does she get to choose where she sits? ”My answer is simple yet perhaps misunderstood. “I can trust her to be responsible in class” The boy looks at me like a kitten and murmurs, “What’s responsibility?”

It’s a concept that permeates every part of our task-oriented lives. Whether we are dealing with deadlines at work; cooking meals at home; walking the dog; or, turning up at school we all have responsibilities that we are held accountable to. Yet despite its immeasurable influence in our lives, it’s not something we teach directly in school or even at home. It’s so embedded in what we do that we forget it’s there. Instead, our lessons in the classroom are filled with opportunities to fulfill and neglect responsibility and we, as teachers, can add deterrents and incentives as we please. Students that show responsibility can sit where they like; they qualify for hall passes; they choose the free time activities etc. Kids that show irresponsible behavior have less choice and must prove themselves as individuals who can handle the power of choice. There are plenty of ways to teach responsibility indirectly in the classroom and rightly so because it is a fundamental and important concept.

Responsibility is having a duty to perform and, moreover, being held accountable for that duty. In the classroom environment, responsibility is often a way of teaching that sometimes, you have to do things that you don’t want to. It is a way to inject consistency, discipline and tolerance into a generation. However, I find it often mistaken. I find children telling me, ‘If I don’t behave in class then I will get in trouble’. Too many of our classes are structured as crime and punishment and bring with it an aura of fear rather than respect. What I hope to be hearing is, ‘If I am good, then I can choose what activity we do this afternoon’. It is not enough to say that responsibility is the foundation of how we discipline. It should be the foundation of how we reward, acknowledge the effort and return respect.  

Above all however, the importance of responsibility is really based around teaching children to make the right decisions. We must be responsible for our family and make decisions that honor them and we must be responsible for our bodies and make decisions that will guard them. In fact, to choose to be responsible is not a one-off decision but instead a series of choices that test our sense of duty. We have our children learn to endure this trial so that qualities like integrity, honesty, discipline and duty grow in them. Responsibility is the root of all those things and should sit at the top of our teaching list. It is our responsibility as those who choose to teach, to uphold the duty of teaching responsibility.