It’s often seen as simply a reward or a punishment, so how can giving responsibility to students be used to improve behaviour?

There is probably only a handful of readers who still have memories of ‘jobs’ being given out to students, such as the role of ink or milk monitor. That same handful may also remember such jobs as banging the board cleaner on the hard playground to clean off the chalk and then wiping the blackboard down at the end of the day with a damp towel! Those particular jobs have now thankfully disappeared and the nominated students have grown up and left school.

However, there will be many who recall teachers nominating students for roles such as giving out the books, taking the register or collecting in work, to mention just a few. To many students these roles were simply viewed as a means to making life easier for the teacher, sometimes as a punishment, or sometimes even as a reward for some good work and/or behaviour. In reality, the use of allocating responsibility can be a powerful tool in developing a sense of community and personal self-esteem.

In a world in which entertainment is ‘on demand’ and many at one time tedious or repetitive jobs can now be done at the push of a button, students are in danger of developing an attitude of ‘it’s not my responsibility’. You have probably already experienced this same attitude in your own classroom or around the school building. How many times have you asked a student to pick up some litter, or tidy up a work area, only to be answered with, ‘I didn’t drop it!’ or ‘It’s not my mess, why should I clear it up?’ The attitude of ‘If it’s not going to benefit me, then I’m not doing it!’ conveys a selfish, often confrontational persona of the student.

Taking responsibility, being part of the school or class community can not only develop a sense of community spirit and improved self-esteem, but can also have a dramatic effect on reducing the instances of challenging behaviour, confrontation, refusal to comply and defiance.

Practical Tips
While many of the ‘jobs’ mentioned in the introduction will already be taking place in most teaching areas (apart from the ink monitoring and blackboard cleaning!), it is important for students to understand why these roles and responsibilities are being used, and the benefits.

For instance, if an individual student only sees the role of taking the register to the office as a reward for good work or behaviour, and it is a job that has been allocated to one student, then he/she may see the role as being out of their reach and may believe that there is no point even trying to be considered by the teacher. If, however, the posts of responsibility are shared out equally, with a clear expectation that they will be done well, on time and accurately, then students will not automatically link jobs with rewards and sanctions.

The student who constantly disrupts the class at the beginning of the lesson, or upsets the class group while waiting to enter the room, could be allocated the responsibility of preparing the classroom, or ensuring that homework has been collected and is ready to hand in. A more proactive approach to dealing with difficult behaviour can reduce tension and deflect what may otherwise be a challenging situation.

Take some time to consider a possible list of responsibilities that could be allocated and shared around your teaching groups. Again, as in all good behaviour management strategies, these can be considered on three levels:

  1. Whole school activities
  2. Group or class activities
  3. Individual activities

Many schools and classrooms will already have a wide variety of activities, such as:

  • litter patrols
  • display board and notices monitors
  • students on school reception
  • hand out/collect in work
  • preparing rooms
  • preparing equipment
  • taking messages.

Whatever posts of responsibility you decide on, ensure that they are accessible to all students and not just restricted to your rewards and sanctions systems. Use rota systems and printouts to indicate ‘who is doing what and when’. Try to develop a system in which students see the roles as part of the school day, rather than as some sort of favour to you and the rest of the class.

It’s also worth keeping a track record of behaviour, particularly of your most challenging students, to see if the use of roles and responsibility really does make a significant change in their attitude, self-esteem and overall behaviour. The spin-off is that it will make your life easier in the teaching and learning environment!

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.