How can I develop personal responsibility in education?

At the university where I work, all final year students undertake a project of their choice to pursue and investigate a particular aspect of a science related topic. One of my students decided to investigate teaching Chemistry at a local secondary school in view of progressing to becoming a science teacher.  He did the required background checks, and we contacted the school that we had worked closely with in the past in placing this student.

Emails were exchanged earlier in the autumn to sort out starting dates as planned, except the placement didn’t actually happen. Why? Because I did not email the follow up to finalise the actual dates and terms of work for this student.

Don’t get me wrong I had all the intentions of contacting them etc, but the fact is I didn’t. I became aware of my defensive thoughts such as ‘Well he could have reminded me…’, ‘I missed the date to contact them…’. Then ‘Oh I should have remembered to contact the school…’

This last thought I put it through the SEJ process when I noticed the heightened feelings of guilt and worry. I felt tight and I certainly did not take the action that was required.

When I hit upon a perfect answer that felt true for me, it was the same ‘I should have remembered’. But this time it felt different; I felt humbled, and a feeling of humility came in realising the truth that it definitely WAS my responsibility to act on the students’ behalf. The fact was plain and simple for me to see and unlike earlier I could see clearly what action I needed to take.

With this clarity the first thing I did was to apologise to the student and then I took action to rectify what was needed to be done. The SEJ process showed me what and how I needed to act with true clarity.  It also gave me the sense of freedom that once I took the responsibility of practicing the SEJ process I found my own empowerment. I was no longer tied to the old pattern of ‘I should have remembered…’. For the student’s part, he apologised for not taking the ownership of this placement and explained that he was lazy and did not take it seriously. We each took ownership of our part and responded accordingly.

Research by Nader Ayish and Tanju Deveci shows that ’…students identified that increased academic performance, confidence levels, and improved relationships with peers would be enhanced if they adopted a responsible attitude toward their learning…’ 1

We ‘teach’ children and young people about taking responsibility, but as ‘adults’ in their lives when we take full responsibility of our own thoughts and actions, instead of blaming or attacking them, we will be far more effective and empowering role models. Don’t you agree?

Dr M Howard-Kishi

1. Nader Ayish and Tanju Deveci ‘Student Perceptions of Responsibility for Their Own Learning and for Supporting Peers’ Learning in a Project-based Learning Environment’ International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 2019, Volume 31, Number 2, 224-237

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