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Giving Students Responsibilities to Promote Independence

Contributed by: Mary Kay Hafer, School Psychologist

Source: Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, “Choices” Newsletter, Volume 9, Issue 3, Fall 2003


Do you have students who bully others? Defy authority? Lack confidence? Lead others astray? Believe it or not, students with any of the above characteristics can be supported through the same type of intervention. According to Brendtro, Brokenieg, and Van Brocken (1990), these traits are indicative of absent or distorted independence. What is the remedy? It is providing them with meaningful responsibilities.

In a school setting there are many opportunities that can give students the experience of responsibility, in addition to just making sure their homework is completed daily. Two powerful ways to foster responsibility are discipline through assignment of meaningful jobs and restitution.

Meaningful Jobs:

  • Greeter: greets each student when they enter the classroom

  • Closer: Reads a positive closing message for the day/period

  • Time Manager: In charge of keeping the class on schedule with the teacher’s planned events for the class period

  • Homework Announcer: reads the homework assignment aloud as the students record it in their planners

  • Dictionary Guru: This job can take many different forms. The student could pick a new word for the class to learn (both definition and spelling) for the week and recognize anyone who used the new word. Alternatively, this student can be in charge of looking up any unfamiliar words encountered by the class during a lesson.

  • Bulletin Board Design Consultant: Help design and put of a board on a topic selected by the teacher.

  • Study Guide Designer: Creates study guides for upcoming tests with the help of a teacher.

  • Chapter Reader: Records the chapter on tape for students who have difficulty reading it independently.

  • In Your Absence” Paperwork Manager: creates a folder with material missed due to absences for children who were out sick.

  • Motivator: Finds motivating biographies/quotes/statements to share once a month.

  • Peer Mediator: Assists students with reaching a peaceful resolution to a conflict.

  • Plant Waterer: Waters and maintains plants in the room


Restitution is a way to employ the principles of discipline, not punishment. This helps to strengthen the person, while making satisfactory amends to the “victim” and it requires more effort on the part of the student rather than the teacher. It must be relevant to the situation, and result in little incentive to repeat the negative behavior. It does not create resentment and avoids the use of criticism, guilt or anger to control the student. On the other hand, punishment can teach kids to fight back, flee a situation when they make a mistake or fear they will make one. It does not show the student what to do next time, nor allow them to take responsibility (own it). It can teach students to make decisions to avoid penalty, rather than because it is the morally right thing to do. Some punishments can destroy a child’s dignity

In simplest terms, a restitution can be achieved by talking about the value behind an appropriate versus inappropriate action (“What’s the school rule or moral involved?”), framing the restitution in terms to include the needs of the child, as well as the needs of the teacher, classmates and victim (“What are you doing? Does what you are doing work for everyone involved?”; “what do you want, what do THEY want?’), and allowing time for the student to take ownership by generating a solution (“what plan do you want to make to remedy the situation?”). Common forms of restitution include: fixing something, paying back, saying two positives about the “offended” person, or giving time in lieu of the offense (as in community service to the victim/class/school).

Give some of these a try and see if they help in the development of the responsible and independent students we are striving to create in our schools!

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