Why Shifting More Responsibility To Your Students Can Change Everything

Why Shifting More Responsibility To Your Students Can Change EverythingTeachers who struggle with classroom management tend to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

They’re burdened with the need to walk, talk, correct, cajole, and remind their students through every this and every that. They’re saddled with having to remain on tense alert from morning bell to dismissal.

They’ve been conditioned to believe that their hovering presence and near-constant input is the only way to keep a lid on their classroom and their students even nominally on task. Every day is a grind. Stress and exhaustion are an ever-present reality.

The joy of teaching is a distant dream.

The students, on the other hand, go about their day without a care in the world beyond their own wants and needs. They flop along silly and unfettered. They swivel their heads with distraction. They side-talk and argue and slide deeper into their seats as if nothing is at stake.

To an observer, they do appear to need non-stop attention. They appear to need continual guidance and encouragement. They appear to need ten teachers, not one.

But it’s all an illusion.

You see, the students in the above scenario behave the way they do because they receive too much attention. They’re immature and impulsive and me-focused because they have too little responsibility of their own. They don’t care because they don’t have to care.

Left bored and unchallenged and annoyed at their teacher’s smothering, ever-present shadow, they predictably turn to, ahem, other pursuits.

The Shift

The most effective teachers turn this script on its head.

They focus their energy not on micromanaging students, but on good instruction. They focus on teaching and modeling highly detailed expectations. They focus on showing precisely, step-by-step, what they want their students to do.

Then they take their hands off the wheel.

They shift the responsibility for carrying out their expectations in toto to their students. They take a step back and allow their students to succeed (or fail) all on their own. They stand steady and observant with an attitude that says, “Now show me.”

They free their students to indulge the desire and satisfaction that resides inside each one of them to take on responsibility, to overcome challenges, and to rely triumphantly upon themselves. They leave a void that well-taught, well-prepared students will naturally and eagerly fill.

Their expectations are backed both by individual and group consequences, but never by micromanagement. Never by frequent reminders or warnings. Never by stepping in to offer help or guidance where none is needed.

The students, in turn, thrive in such an environment.

They crave challenge and responsibility, and they blossom as a result of having it heaped upon their shoulders. They turn from needy and unmotivated to responsible and fiercely independent. They walk and move and attend with purpose.

By focusing on providing world-class instruction—the very essence of what it means to be a teacher—and then allowing your students to do their job, you can completely change the character of your classroom.

You can experience teaching the way it ought to be—joyful, transformational, masterful.

The way you always wanted it.

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13 Responses to Why Shifting More Responsibility To Your Students Can Change Everything

  1. Mrs. Anna Nichols June 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I have thoroughly enjoyed looking through all these articles as well as reading your latest book, Classroom Management for Art, Music, and P.E. Teachers. Your philosophy reminds me of one of my favorite authors, John Rosemond, who wrote A Family of Value. Also, I really appreciate that you remind teachers to take responsibility and be proactive in our classrooms.
    If you would be so kind, I would love to hear your responses to these 3 questions:
    1. You claim that if a teacher will simply do two things: consistently hold students accountable while at the same time maintaining “leverage” by creating an interesting and fun class then the teacher’s discipline issues will disappear. Do you admit that, sometimes, there are student behavior issues that are outside of the teacher’s control?
    2. Have you ever taught 7th or 8th grade all day long, exclusively of any other grade level, for any length of time?
    3. Did you interview master art, music, or P.E. teachers for this book, or is the information simply what you have found in your own experience to work well?
    Thank you so much for your time!
    Mrs. Anna Nichols
    Visual Art Instructor, grades 6, 7, 8

    • Michael Linsin June 8, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

      Hi Anna,

      Questions two and three are answered in the book’s introduction (page 2). As for your first question, the claim isn’t an accurate representation of what we believe here at Smart Classroom Management or what is written in Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers. Certainly a student can call out, push a classmate, or become brazenly disrespectful–all completely outside of a teacher’s control. If this wasn’t the case, then there would be no need for accountability.


  2. Mrs. Anna Nichols June 9, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    Thank you so much, Mr. Linsin, for teaching us to hold our students accountable in a respectful way. There are so many websites, books, and psychological theories that leave this very important factor out of the equation, or minimize it to the point that it seems irrelevant. You are so right about the desperate need our students have for structure and accountability and the fact that we are doing them a disservice by not providing it. I do have one more question for you: do you think that it would ever be beneficial for a teacher to show that s/he is angry, as long as the teacher does not “take it out” on the students? I can remember several times this past year when I was having a hard day, my students knew it, and I forced myself to focus on the positive, laugh with them, and enjoy them anyway. The students understood how I was feeling, after all, teachers are only human!

  3. Mrs. Anna Nichols June 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I am very much interested in understanding the different ways of approaching managing a classroom when dealing with at-risk or high-poverty student populations. These kids often come to school hungry, and studies have shown they are not as motivated to learn as students from middle class or higher income families. Would you ever recommend trying tangible incentives with these kids, such as food/candy/prizes? In your articles on this website you strongly recommend the teacher avoid these kinds of extrinsic motivators. Do you think they are detrimental at all times or would they ever have a place, especially when a teacher is trying to manage tough, high-poverty, at-risk students?

  4. Mrs. Anna Nichols June 9, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    I found this comment under your article, “Why You Should Never Reward Good Behavior;”
    “All of the strategies and principles on this website were developed in the classroom with children in schools located in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”
    This answers my question, I think!
    May I have your permission to copy your answers to my questions on my website? It is a collaborative non-profit blog created to help art teachers in Alabama. Thank you so much for your time, and for being so prompt in answering my questions!
    Mrs. Anna Nichols
    Visual Art Instructor
    Grades 6, 7, 8

    • Michael Linsin June 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      Hi Anna,

      I would have indeed directed you to that article. As for your question, if you’d like to interview me for your site, that would be fine. Please email me and we can set up a window of time when I can address your questions.


  5. Mrs. Anna Nichols June 11, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Thank you so much for putting us on your calendar. I appreciate the fact that you have “put yourself out there” and allowed so many teachers to pepper you with questions! Please continue doing so! I know this has taken a tremendous sacrifice of your time and it says a great deal about who you are as a person. Serving other teachers is also one of my missions!
    I was very skeptical of your claims at first because, as an art teacher, there are so many extra demands on us and it is hard to believe someone who makes such fantastic claims as you do. However, when I opened up and began reading Dream Class, I knew immediately that I was holding a masterpiece. I will recommend reading this book at least once per year to any teachers I know!

    • Michael Linsin June 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

      No problem, Anna! Thanks for your kind words.


  6. Calvin pettigrew June 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Hey Michael,

    My name is Calvin Pettigrew. I teach kindergarten students in Korea. 7 yrs old Korean age. 5 or 6 in American age. I’ve read dream class and other of your articles. I dont read much from you that says that these keys work only for a certain age. Because your principles are based in truth I don’t think age makes a difference. A person needs to be held accountable for what they do. I have a set of boundaries/rules with appropriate consequences (after 3 warnings, lose 10 min of gym class, after 4 lose all of gym.). I am holding them accountable for thier actions and consistently applying the consequences. I am being attacked by admin at the school for actually doing what I said. They don’t disagree w the rules but they don’t actually want me to carry out the consequences. They want me to lighten the consequence. They don’t like that I hold the young learners accountable. Am I in error somewhere? Do I need to change because of cultural differences and age and because if it being an ESL? The reason i don’t think so is because education is education and children are children, and the most basic fundamental reality for a classroom is that a student must be held accountable. No matter what.

    • Michael Linsin June 11, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Hi Calvin,

      No, I don’t think you’re in error, but it would be a good idea to ask what they don’t like about your consequences. Perhaps they prefer that the students don’t lose out on exercise time—which I don’t disagree with. I’d rather your consequences take place in your classroom. In this way, they’re more immediate, more impactful, and more applicable to the message you want to send.


  7. Christina July 21, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    Hello, you stated in this article that the teacher need to let the students work without interruptions but what can the teacher be doing at the time? If my principal caught me sitting down, I would be in a lot of trouble.