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ESE502 : The Class : Structure : Self-Responsibility

Building Self-Responsibility

Enhancing Student Responsibility
to Increase Student Success

Students will feel a greater affinity for educational experiences if empowered to tailor them to individual specifications while learning the skills of working in community. This includes rethinking the power structure in the classroom, moving from autocratic to shared governance as students are prepared to accept the responsibility. Research validates the importance of asking participants to become fully engaged in accepting responsibility for self. Acquiring life skills that provide opportunities for accepting the challenge and responsibility of self control as well as the value of assisting one another are also important aspects.

Is it possible that schools expect too little of students and demand the wrong things? The following scenario highlights that possibility.

    Lucy walked out of grandmother's hogan. It was early morning; the blue gray sky waiting for the East to burst with brightness. Morning prayers were on Lucy's lips as she stepped determinedly toward the sheep dogs, already wagging their tails at her coming. Lucy was a big girl now. The others would go off to school today, but Lucy was still too young to go to school so she would take care of the sheep all by herself. She stretched a little taller as she thought about the coming day. . . .

    Lucy is having her first day in school. She shrinks down, trying to disappear. She does not understand much of what the teacher is saying, and one time when she went looking for a drink in the strange building, the teacher looked very cross and stopped her from leaving with Helene. She cannot do anything at this school. She doesn't understand coloring and cutting. She cannot speak as the teacher speaks. She may not talk with her friends and she can't understand why she doesn't see her brother. If only she could go home! She is grandmother's golden child at home. Here she is insignificant. Here she is useless.

This is not just a situation of culture shock. This speaks to both the self- esteem and doing esteem of the child. This child, in another setting, was trusted with the family livelihood. She was honored as someone contributing to the family and she understood the rituals and expectations of those around her who cared for her. In the school setting, she does not feel valued. She does not know what is expected. She does not feel that she is contributing; she is not treated with honor. Even her basic need for a drink wasn't honored.

What might educators do to address this? Certainly, we want students to see schooling as opening new vistas, not closing down the things that signify self. The real concern, of course, is not that kindergarten tasks are difficult for Lucy, but that this first introduction to formal learning may be setting an underlying tone which tells children that their abilities, knowledge, and self reliance are not recognized or valued. Even if a series of teachers tries to change that impression later, the first experiences and feelings may color future steps Lucy takes at the school. Certainly, experience is showing us that many students feel disenfranchised.1

Student as Self-Responsible Learner

One way to highlight and value students is to acknowledge that they can be self-responsible as learners. Research makes a strong case for the validity of student as self-responsible learner. One such finding come from research in business and educational leadership. McGregor2 tested the concept that believing in people -- in their creativity, initiative, and self-direction -- would increase productivity. These ideas were applied to teacher initiative and professionalism with positive results3. Teachers treated with respect and given a collaborative role in decision making and self-management were creative, focused, and highly effective.

Deming's Total Quality Management4 has recently been adapted to the educational arena. By applying his fourteen points to education, gains were made in improving educational quality and the learning atmosphere.5 This research validated the crucial importance of relationship, of teacher and student empowerment, and of ownership to quality education. It is noteworthy that five of Deming's fourteen points stress the importance of student as self-responsible.

In his research in psychology, Coopersmith studied esteem. He found that families who provided high expectations, related consistently with nurturing, and highlighted freedom for the child to set and complete tasks provided an effective milieu for healthy adults.6 Motivation theory has come to much the same kind of conclusions.7 Putting students in charge of adapting, monitoring, and measuring tasks and behavior is the most successful format for student achievement and engagement. It also lowers resistance to learning and alleviates most behavior crises.

It follows from this research that students who are self-motivated, who have a major stake in decisions, who self-assess and self-discipline are going to be successful in learning concepts,creating ideas and becoming successful citizens. These settings will help to develop young people who have set and met personal goals, who see school as a place to utilize the work ethic and who see school as an exciting personal challenge. Further, we will have students, and thus ultimately communities who value and desire school education.

The Setting Changes

Most educational settings contain an unreconciled split. We say we value Lucy, the individual, yet we call on Lucy to "disappear" in large measure. Every child is born a real and unique person, and it is clear from the first breath. Something whispers from the inside that each person is special and has a vital and unique contribution to make. Lucy, the person, really matters to Lucy and to Grandma and others in the family. To overlook any "Lucy," even through lack of awareness or sense of urgency to attend to content, affirms the wrong.

It is crucial to capitalize on individuality for the good of each child as well as the good of society. It is also important to maintain a sense of balance. We are individuals with individual potential, but we are also deeply enmeshed in the need for others and the propensity to be social. With this recognition comes a greater understanding of the importance of building community through schooling. The concept of community underscores the value of the individual. True community pools individuality through consensus to build accord, nourishing each person while enhancing the group.

As the classroom exists today, much of the resource of individual talent, ability, and individuality is lost to the press of maintaining environmental equilibrium rather than supporting individual freedom. Teaching students to make personal contributions in the classroom, and to help others to do the same, later extends to making personal contributions to local communities, and thus to the building of society.

An Enhanced Vision for Schools

Building the educational system to contain elements that ensure the teaching and practice of community involves careful scrutiny and adjustment of the roles of teacher, students, and even administrators.8 Building community requires attention to the systemic interactions in classrooms. Students need to feel cared about and to care about one another. They need to feel wanted, accepted for who they are and what they can do. They need to believe that they are "enough" as they are, yet understand the promise or who they can yet become. They need to feel that they matter, and that they have a great deal to contribute, that something important is lost when they are not able to be in school.

Youth need to feel valued by the teacher and to believe that the teacher wishes to understand them and to say "yes" whenever possible. They need to believe that what they think is important and that others want to know and discuss their ideas. It is critical for every student to come to believe that their thoughts are a contribution to a group of people and significant to a learning community. Inherent in this community-building and person-building process is recognition that content and curriculum can be tightly interwoven with the process of learning and with sharing what it means to be human. Integrating process and product is powerful, for it develops cognitive skills along with the knowledge base -- the will with the way. It enhances the capacity of students to successfully engineer personalized learning, and increases the milieu of community and cooperation . It develops the humanity and the human being.9

This type of teaching is an art and a craft as well as a profession.10 Despite a century of emulating a scientific approach in teacher education, teaching has continued, at its core, to be a service, a dedication, a calling. Mastery of the art of teaching depends on intuition, on nonverbal impressions, timing, creativity, a sense of humor. Teaching is a fully human pursuit. Using one's humanity to teach the nature of humanity naturally expands teaching and student roles beyond lecture. In the past ten years, professional development schools proliferated out of intuitive recognition of a need to change the teaching model to include interaction with youngsters.11 Many of the models are succeeding. With this impetus, teaching is exploring many potential teaching and learning roles from early childhood to graduate school.

These changes call for subtle and profound perceptions of who teachers are, what students will know, when an education is complete. The value we place on teaching is reflected in the things we measure and report about students and in the types of summative evaluations we make of the system and the students who are successful in completing a course of study. These reforms suggest enhancing university teaching programs so they provide opportunities to explore and build self more fully, understand multiple facets of the development of children, and encourage the evolution of healthy community. These skills build the learning environment, for as teachers acquire the skills and become involved in the practice of shifting teaching and learning to a shared venture, a larger percentage of students feels empowered to take additional responsibility for work in the classroom and for extending learning beyond generation of minimal requirements.12

Teaching Role

We begin by moving the role of teacher into a more democratic stance. The teacher models and teaches the skills and responsibilities of community. It is not unusual for the classroom to be run in an autocratic fashion.13 It is a novel thought to move that power base to include students as part of the mechanism for governance and for the teacher to move to a democratic form of classroom leadership.


Common Classroom Power Structure
Democratic Structure


Teacher as sage, students as subjects
Teacher and students as members

Models of power structure in the classroom

For this change in management to occur, the teacher perceives a different role in the classroom as appropriate and functional. The acquisition of the facilitative role is a gradual and developing move from protector, holder of the keys, sage, to "president" or executive member of the educational setting. It is a gradual shift from structurer to enforcer of structure to contributing member of structure; from boss to facilitator. And always there is the focus on each child's personal well-being; development of success in personal potential rather than a collective goal of high academic scores or all-star athlete.

Most of us grew up in classrooms and homes that used an autocratic power base. The teacher develops the stance of facilitator or "teacher as participant in learning." This change in classroom milieu occurs through grooming students, through modeling and practicing choice and consequence. It develops much as any other set of behaviors, through actively teaching students the roles and responsibilities of humane demeanor and democratic interchange.

Developmental Perspective

The teaching role changes as it develops. As students are assisted to develop the ability to move from self-absorption to awareness of others, the teacher supports the progress. Then the ability and desire to work in concert to accomplish group will and social good occurs, in part as a developmental stage for the student, in part through the careful guidance of the teacher. Just as carefully, thoroughly, and systematically as we teach the "3-Rs," we interweave the teaching of human interaction skills and develop the tools for self-understanding followed by self-discipline, compromise, and consensus. Even as the roles begin to evolve, there is interweaving rather than abdication.

The classroom rules make a good example. In the first years of school experience, it is helpful for the child to come to school and find the structure and safety provided and in place, to know that the classroom principle of "respect for others" ensures "respect by others." The teacher explains the rules and teaches the children procedures and practical ways to accomplish the work. Guidelines are established, taught, and practiced for easing the flow of community. These may include lining up, pencil sharpening, playing with equipment, and working with clay, scissors, and paste. With older students, the procedures may deal with using lockers, hall passes, the telephone, and after-school activities.

The procedures and guidelines are used as facilitators rather than taking on the force of law. As the students gain expertise, group discussions can initiate these training exercises, the teacher calling on students to develop guidelines and think through procedures and good practice. In time, students will initiate discussions of classroom practice, based on the desire to contribute to the emerging interrelationships of mutual respect. As new students come to the school extra individual attention can be provided to instilling the rules and sense of cooperation as part of initiation into the school community.

Then as students become ready, the teacher moves to facilitator. By the second and third years, students can be ready to set up expectations. They are likely to know how to develop rules for working together effectively and enhancing the learning environment. At the same time, if situations emerge that suggest teacher leadership, the teacher can move in and out of the role of rule maker and rule keeper as needed, without detracting from students as leadership apprentices.

The teacher provides a safe environment and teaches students to work within the sanctions. As the group cohesion and competence increases, the teacher allows the natural increase in self-governance and glides into position as member of the group. Even so, the teacher maintains the responsibility for the safety of all and thus guides students if there is a relapse in community building or loss of self-control.

As noted in the chart, the safety and structure [blue] of the classroom are held constant. The role of the teacher is crucial to the harmony of the structure. To be emphatic, the teacher does not give up the task of maintaining a learning environment nor abdicate responsibility in any way. Instead, there is shared empowerment. As students develop the skills [green] to work competently at self-discipline and democratic governance, the teacher shares the roles [yellow] and responsibilities inherent in maintaining classroom sanctity.

Interweaving roles for dynamic classroom leadership

Structure is held in place to provide safety, promote learning and enhance community

The educational setting and learning environment are valued and protected. The ideal of learning, thinking, reflecting, and creating are pursued vigorously. Self-examination and critique of the quality and quantity of learning are actively engaged in by all participants. The difference creates an expansion of energy and the sharing of ownership and pride. By sharing in the democratic governance of the educational setting, motivation is increased, an environment of stability and excitement is afforded and the efforts of students are highlighted. As described by Gage and Berliner there are five basic objectives in the humanistic view of education: promote positive self-direction and independence(development of the regulatory system),develop the ability to take responsibility for what is learned(regulatory and affective systems)develop creativity(divergent thinking aspect of cognition)curiosity(exploratory behavior,a function of imbalance or dissanonce in any of these interest in the arts(primarily to develop the emotional/affective system.

Once the students have acquired an understanding of self-control, the learning environment can move toward students recognizing and appreciating the skills and traits of others. This is accomplished through the developmental perspectives that contribute to the use of "whole child" educational processes and the development and implementation of a curriculum that ensures awareness of and practice with democratic interaction.

Each educational level develops a curriculum for teaching age-appropriate skills for enhancing self-discipline. The process curriculum helps students recognize and accept responsibility for learning and thinking as a whole person. As the child matures, emphasis is directed to greater ego strength and fine tuning and maintenance of social skills. As the child is able, more self-governance is taught, modeled, and expected. The following chart gives an example of the steps involved in development of moral reasoning, the natural or acquired ability to see beyond self needs and a personalized perspective.

Steps in student acquisition of social development and learning to lead

With broadening strokes, the child moves from self-absorption to awareness of others, from solely meeting personal gratification to a balance of sharing self with others and recognizing the importance of the needs of others. She or he moves from looking at the world from one narrow pane to an ever-expanding panorama that eventually takes in a world view from varying perspectives. In time, the needs of the larger community become important, not just for self-gratification, but as important keys that vouchsafe the future.

The child moves from only one best, right, simple answer to the wonder of multiple options and the joy of sharing ideas and establishing collegiality. Again, through hard work and the passage of years, development, and experiences, students are helped to see multiple options to situations rather than instant self-gratification.

    "I empathize with your predicament. How can I help?" rather than "I know just how you feel! Why, the other day just as I was about to . . ."

Students are taught strategies that help in thinking around situations, in seeing potential consequences of actions rather than taking the first thought and acting upon it. The child is taught reflection, introspection, reasoning, logic. As students progress in these ways of thinking and behaving, social capacity evolves. First there is sustenance of personal need; then group need; and finally, students emerge as champions of relationship, able to look at the needs of many, embracing the concept of multicultural and multinational interests and needs. Thus prepared, students enter the world of work and adult responsibility able to share the knowledge of personal strengths, acceptance of self, concern and care for those who are gifted and talented in other ways, and excitement about the challenges of the future. For a person thus prepared, it is not just excitement about a personal future, but a shared and global concept of future. For a nation thus prepared, the philosophical depth, emotional stability, and experience in building and maintaining community offer world leadership in constructing a positive future and advancing the well-being of humanity.


Students will feel a greater affinity for educational experiences if they are empowered to tailor them to individual specifications while learning the skills of working in community. Personal investment allows students to feel a part of the educational context, which provides a feeling of empowerment. Participants who become fully engaged accept responsibility for self and assist one another through a sense of community. The sense of personal pride in connection with a sense of community is fulfilling in the sense of best developmental practice. It also provides the greatest sense of connection with education and escalates the motivation to participate, to value education, and to assist in perpetuating the institution of learning. The following points summarize the steps to be taken by those wishing to invest in this crucial evolution toward democratic schooling.

I. Build the child

  1. Recognize need for sense of control over own life.
  2. Develop a meaningful relationship with each child in the classroom.
  3. Enrich student esteem by ongoing purposive objectives that address the being as well as the work of each child on a daily basis.
  4. Provide safety and structure to enhance sense of well-being.
  5. View student growth developmentally, across multiple dimensions: Physical Emotional Philosophical Social Intellectual
  6. Evaluate and then teach learning skills as a spiral curriculum.
  7. Evaluate and then teach organizational skills as a spiral curriculum.
  8. In conjunction with each student, develop an individualized program that integrates student strengths with community curriculum and life-building expectations.
  9. Provide activities that allow individual students to share insights in each learning situation.
  10. Use a democratic form of classroom management, empowering students to learn and use self-control as the primary form of discipline; teaching and practicing meaningful exercises for self-discipline rather than punitive measures when aberrant behavior occurs.

II. Build community

  1. Assist students to learn cooperative strategies in interactions.
  2. Show value for and teach practices that enhance mutual respect in all interactions.
  3. Teach and practice components of relationship and healthy community

    communication skills
    group behavior
    empathy and understanding of others
    control of emotions - positive and negative
    conflict resolution
    respect for self and others
    appreciation of diversity
    honesty and trustworthiness.

  4. Integrate life skills into the daily curriculum.
  5. Model healthy interactions.
  6. Provide incentives for community building that are consistent with incentives and evaluation systems for competency in content areas.
  7. Involve students in group decision making through class meetings and school governance.
  8. Include family and geographical community in social relationships.
  9. Build time into the day for observation and reflection of community and relationship health.
  10. Decline to become involved in power struggles or any other form of authoritarian action that might denigrate students in their own or othersŐ eyes.

   Argyis, C. Management and organizational development. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

      Bostingl, J. J. Total quality in education: A prescription for improving our schools. The Early Adolescence Magazine, 1991.

      Coerver, H. F. Jr. TQM helps associations improve practice and product. Executive, (1992): 19-21.

      Coopersmith, S. The antecedents of self esteem. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1961.

      Costa, A. L. & Liebmann, R. M. Envisioning process as content. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 1996.

      Goodlad, J. I. The national network for educational renewal. Record in Educational Leadership, 14(2), (1994): 5-10.

      Holmes Group. Tomorrow's schools. East Lansing, MI: Author, 1990.

      Holt-Reynolds, D. Preservice teachers and course work: When is getting it right wrong? In M. J. O'Hair & S. J. O'Dell (Eds.), Educating teachers for leadership and change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 1995.

      Iverson, L.J., Johnson, D. L. & Harlow, S. D. Meeting the needs of children with emotional problems in a profoundly rural areas: A preventive model. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 13(3), (1994):26-30.

      Kohn, A. Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996.

      Likert, R. & Likert, J. G. New ways of managing conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

      McGregor, D. The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

      Maddux, C. D., Smaby, M. & Hovland, J. Students in rural settings with high-risk classroom behavior problems and teacher-subscribed intervention strategies. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 15(1), (1996):29-34.

      Montouri, A. and Conti, I. From power to partnership: Creating the future of love, work and community. San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1993.

      Sergiovanni, T. J. "Beyond human relationship". in Professional supervision for professional teachers. Washington, D. C.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1975.

      Tom, A. The practical art of redesigning teacher education: Teacher education reform at Washington University, 1970-1975. Peabody Journal of Education, 65, (1988): 158-179.

      Wlodkowski, R. J. Motivation and teaching: a practical guide. Washington, D. C.: National Education Association Publication, 1986.

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