Beyond Compliance: Teaching Students to Make Responsible Decisions

I have been going home exhausted. Yes, I'm getting used to early mornings. But I think the most draining aspect of a new school year is fielding the hundreds of questions fired at me. I'm sure you've heard them:

  • "Can I call home/go to the restroom/return my book/fill my water bottle...?"
  • "Do I...?"
  • "What do...?"
  • "Where does this go?"

Procedural questions can be handled by listing tasks on the board each morning. When a student brings a form signed by parents, I point to my board.


After a couple of weeks, the procedural questions begin to wane. Procedural questions are relatively easy to eliminate.

The harder questions: What is the purpose of the current activity?Each week, student type up Day 1 Report that are printed, taken home, and signed by parents. This week, three students asked, "Are we allowed to change the font?"


On the one hand, I'm happy my students are so conscientious. On the other hand, I don't want to make decisions of this nature. If I make these decisions, students will be compliant. If I teach students to answer these questions in a responsible way, they learn to consider school as a place with a series of purposeful activities.

I pulled the students into a corner of the room and asked, "What is the purpose of the Day 1 reflection?" After some pair share conversations, students came to the conclusion that the Day 1 folder was a way to communicate learning with parents.

"If that is the purpose," I said, "What would be the answer to the question Am I allowed to change the font?" After some thought, students said,

  • You can't make the font too small or our parents won't be able to read it.
  • You want to save paper if you can.
  • We have to be finished before we can go to recess.

Bingo. Make sure your parents can read the paper. Do your best to respect the environment. You don't want too spend too much time on the font changes - you'd probably rather go to recess.


My first days of school are full of such conversations.

In a criticism of educational practices, Seth Godin states, Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.


Seth is partially right. Historically, schools were set up in a factory model with bells and timetables, and grades based on productivity. However, compliant students can become scholars. My compliant students, often subject to the Tiger Mom philosophy, become scholarly through school, after-school language instruction, tutors, and hours extracurricular music practice.

Students need to be more than compliant intellectuals - I expect many of my students will attain global leadership positions. Global leaders make decisions based on the needs of a situation, considering issues from multiple points of view. They will be responsible for creating the systems of the future.

It's critical that I start teaching them how to make decisions. And, when student make responsible decisions, I have more energy to focus on students' academic needs.

What decisions do you teach students to make?

Views: 93

Tags: character, decisions, development

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