Teaching restorative values and principles in a K-8 school, I often hit a speed bump at “responsibility”. Young students, in particular, interpret the word differently than I intend. I often encounter two common misunderstandings of the word. One is fault or blame, and the other is a character judgement.

Ask a child, “Who is responsible for this?” and you’ll likely be met with defensiveness. “I didn’t do it!”

Ask, “Is there anyone responsible here?” and you may get some raised-hands. “I am! My mom says I’m very responsible!”

But, if you ask “What responsibility do you have?”, now you’re getting closer to what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about the character-based social construct of being “more responsible” as in being “more adult”. I’m also not talking about the fault/blame pie-chart, and who has the biggest slice of responsibility for a problem.

I’m talking about response ability. I’m trying to help my students recognize their ability to choose their response at any given moment. Further, the response he or she chooses will have an impact. Will it be helpful or harmful? And, ultimately, will you have the courage to stand by your choice…even when it was harmful?

Good people sometimes make bad choices. This doesn’t make them bad people…especially if they take ownership of their choice, and any impact it may have caused.

I find that my students understand this concept more easily when I reframe the word and its meaning this way. They resist it less and engage differently. What do you think? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

For more on response ability, check out this article by Melissa Karnaze, “Response ability is cooler than responsibility” on MindfulConstruct.com.

(Written by Kevin Pugh, Senior Associate)

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