Students demonstrate the trait of responsibility by taking ownership of their lives and acknowledging their power to choose what they think (including their attitudes and mindsets), say and do, and their accountability for the consequences of their choices.

Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:

  • It is an obligation that I do my best work and be my best self.
  • By my choices, I determine what kind of person I am and how others will view me.
  • I am responsible for my actions and their consequences.
  • It’s up to me to have a positive attitude, which is more likely to have positive results.
  • I should do what I have to do without whining or giving excuses.
  • Create a list of ways in which students can help others.
  • Use historical examples, literary characters, or current figures to model how each individual is responsible for his/her own character.
  • Examine the meaning and power behind words.
  • Keep a record of your own successes and missteps.
  • Examine the consequences of not being accountable for actions in literature, history, or current events.
  • Role–play situations in which the action (or lack of action) has a great impact on a character.
  • Explain and illustrate how, despite the fact that we can’t control our situations, we can choose our attitudes.
  • List some examples of who might think of you as a role model.
  • Write a letter to their five–year–old selves giving advice on how to be successful.
  • Provide realistic information about the consequences of unhealthy choices.
  • Examine statistics, physiological effects, or celebrity examples of making unhealthy vs. healthy choices.
  • Develop a list of dos and don’ts for being a responsible person. What happens when people live in accordance with these guidelines? What happens when they don’t? In what ways does irresponsible behavior affect our community and society? In what ways can/do young people demonstrate personal responsibility?
  • Write an essay about the relationship between their age and level of responsibility. How do responsibilities differ for people their age and for older adults? How has their sense of responsibility changed as they have gotten older? At what age should we become totally responsible and accountable for our actions?
  • Write at least five things they could say to themselves when they are tempted to act irresponsibly. Explain the meaning and significance of each.
  • Describe what this society might be like if nobody was accountable for his or her actions, or if nobody kept their commitments.
  • “Every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity an obligation, every possession a duty.” – John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  • “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “Provision for others is the fundamental responsibility of human life.” – Woodrow Wilson
  • “I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything but I can do something. And, because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do what I can.” – Edward Everett Hale
  • “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” – Chinese proverb
  • “The value of life is not in the length of days, but in the use, we make of them; a man may live long yet very little.” – Michel de Montaigne
  • “Any man’s life will be filled with constant and unexpected encouragement if he makes up his mind to do his level best each day.” – Booker T. Washington
  • “I long to accomplish some great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” – Helen Keller
  • “A man can do only what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.” – Albert Schweitzer

Filling the Jar

Learning objectives: Participants will be reminded of the need to prioritize responsibilities before pursuing fun.

Materials needed: A clean, empty jar; a container with enough plastic golf balls or ping pong balls to fill the jar to the top; a container with enough uncooked rice to fill the jar once the balls are inside


Say: “The jar represents the amount of time we have available in a day. The balls represent our responsibilities, or duties, while the rice represents the fun things we want to do. Every day we think about our priorities. Should we take care of our duties first or have fun first? Let’s say we choose to do the things we most want to do.” Dump all the rice in the jar. “We’ll realize that our day is mostly over. Once we begin to add the balls (responsibilities), it isn’t long before our day is full and we have not taken care of all our responsibilities.”

Dump everything back out and start over. Say: “What if we choose to take care of our responsibilities first, and then do the things we want to do? If we put the balls in first and then add the rice, everything fits.”

Hold up the jar that is full of balls but no rice. The class will see all the gaps in the day. It isn’t balanced this way either. We need to concentrate on accomplishing two or three responsibilities, then taking a few moments of downtime (a few balls, a little rice, then a few more balls, a little more rice, etc.). Pour in the rice on top of the balls, to illustrate.

Say: “Sometimes, a lot of us tend to throw balls (responsibilities) into our day as fast and furiously as we can, and never add any rice. Don’t we all have items on our ‘to-do’ lists that never seem to get done? Those are extra balls, and often we try to cram them into the jar. We cannot fit 18 balls in a 12-ball day!”

Classroom application:
To make the idea more concrete for younger students, have them suggest what responsibilities some of the balls could represent (e.g., doing homework, walking the dog, practicing piano) and what some of the rice could represent (e.g., playing a video game, talking on the phone, going to the movies).

What’s on Your Plate?

Learning Objective: To have an understanding of student responsibilities

Materials: Paper plate (one for each student); markers


  • Give everyone a plate and some markers.
  • Have them write on their plate in pictures, words, or phrases the things and responsibilities in their lives that fill up their time as a student. Math–type students can even make it into a pie graph.
  • Students then pair up with one another and tell what is on their plate.

Variation: If the group is too big for everyone to explain their plate individually, you can have them raise their plates to various categories. Like: “Who has ‘completing homework’ on their plate?” “Who has ‘being on time to practice’?”

Process and Reflection:

  • Which values are represented in how students fill their day?
  • What do choices that one makes have to do with putting values into action?
  • How did you decide what goes on your plate?
  • What is the most important value to you? Why?
  • What can you do to live by these core values?
  • Why is it hard for everyone to live by the values we desire to see in students at our school?
  • Responsibility is more than just a word – it is the outcome of choices made. List all the ways at our school where you see responsibility as an outcome of a choice.
  • Can values be taught? What do you think teachers at our school should do if they believe that values can be taught to students?

Not My Job by Bernard L. Brown, Jr.
Brown once worked in a hospital where a patient knocked over a cup of water, which spilled on the floor beside the patient’s bed. The patient was afraid he might slip on the water if he got out of bed, so he asked a nurse’s aide to mop it up. The patient didn’t know it, but the hospital policy said that small spills were the responsibility of the nurse’s aides while large spills were to be mopped up by the hospital’s housekeeping group.

The nurse’s aide decided the spill was a large one and she called the housekeeping department. A housekeeper arrived and declared the spill a small one. An argument followed.

“It’s not my responsibility,” said the nurse’s aide, “because it’s a large puddle.” The housekeeper did not agree. “Well, it’s not mine,” she said, “the puddle is too small.”

The exasperated patient listened for a time, then took a pitcher of water from his night table and poured the whole thing on the floor. “Is that a big enough puddle now for you two to decide?” he asked. It was, and that was the end of the argument.

Teaching Kids the Importance of Responsibility by Barbara Gruener, Free Spirit Publishing

The third core value in our special character development series is the virtue of responsibility. Responsible students do what they’re supposed to do and accept the consequences—both positive and negative—of their choices. One way to help guide students toward strong decision-making is talking about stakeholders—anyone who might have a stake in the outcome of students’ decisions. So I ask students this simple question: Who will care? Try asking your students these questions and see where the discussion goes.

Who will care if you:

  • don’t let your dog in at night?
  • accept a ride from a driver who has been drinking alcohol?
  • choose never to recycle anything?
  • don’t do your homework?
  • don’t pick up after yourself at home? In the classroom?
  • promise to give a friend a ride to Skate Night and you forget?

What’s At Stake
An engaging activity to try is “What’s At Stake?” Give your students a simple scenario and ask them to stand after they think of someone who might be a stakeholder in the decision. For example: Who are the stakeholders if you show up late to pitch a baseball game? Expect students’ answers to include the catcher, backup pitcher, teammates, umpire, coaches, parents, fans, the other team, concession manager, and so forth.

Once students see this visual representation of how many people have a stake in their decisions, they start to understand the importance of thinking things through and not making decisions haphazardly. One of my all-time favorite memories is the day a second-grader approached me with urgency saying, “Mrs. Gruener, you have got to hear this story and you will not believe how many stakeholders it involves.” Touchdown!

To help our students make informed and responsible choices, we use a four-step decision-making model: Stop to give yourself time to think. Look at all your options. Think about the consequences of each option. Decide what’s best for the most people involved.

Chores are also an important part of being responsible. The best way for children to get better at taking responsibility for their actions is by giving them responsibilities and then getting out of their way. At home, chores are daily tasks that need to be done like folding laundry, setting the table, or making a bed. At school, chores can be helping with classroom management or simply completing homework and projects.

Consider these reflection questions with your students:

  • Which chores/jobs are your students willing to do?
  • How will your students keep track of chores/jobs?
  • How often should chores/jobs be done?
  • What are some rewards for doing the chores/jobs?
  • What are some consequences for not completing the chores/jobs?

Chore Chain

I’ve heard it said that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Make a “Chore Chain” to test that adage. Have students write down one or more of their chores on a skinny strip of paper and staple those strips together, end to end, to create the links for the chain. Ask students to imagine how strong this class chain is when everybody shows responsibility by giving their best effort and doing what they’re supposed to do. Pair up students to talk about how this ideal makes their classroom work better. Then tear out one of the middle links from the chain and read it aloud: Uh oh, looks like Jimmy forgot to feed his hamster. As the two halves of the chain fall to the ground, encourage students to reflect on how the strength of the chain was compromised when one of the chores was forgotten.

Break the chain a few more times to represent other forgotten chores, then have students brainstorm ways to help each other remember to take their responsibilities seriously and get their chores done. Finally, institute class jobs so students can practice taking responsibility. Here are some suggestions for jobs that students generally love to do: serve as a cafeteria monitor, be a peer tutor, be a line leader, be the caboose, be a watt watcher and turn off the lights in an empty room, help with recycling, be the paparazzi and take pictures, be the technology engineer, shadow the custodian, read to a younger student, be in charge of recess equipment, feed the class pet, water classroom plants, be the messenger, choose the story, read to another class.

Pursuing excellence is another facet of responsibility.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Ask students what they think Lombardi meant by this. What would it look like, sound like, feel like to pursue perfection? Catching excellence would be the upside. What could be a downside? Then, talk about keeping a growth mindset, adapting well, staying open to mistakes, and giving our personal best without needing to be the best. Share Penelope Perfect by Shannon Anderson or The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires to reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as perfection and process trumps product every time.

The ultimate goal of the virtue of responsibility is to raise young people who show self-control, self-discipline, self-management, and self-regulation. Paul Solarz, a fifth-grade teacher and the author of Learn Like a Pirate, hosts what I consider to be the ultimate test of responsibility at the end of every year: Quiet Day. This is a day set aside for students to take total ownership of their learning because their teacher has to be quiet. All-day long. This ownership also includes feelings management, a must for Quiet Day to be a success, so make sure to carve out time to talk, write, and draw about emotions daily to develop and increase students’ emotional literacy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]