In this article National Board Certified Teacher and author Steve Reifman shares his 9 best classroom management tips to foster student responsibility. Steve has developed these ideas over his 19-year teaching career as part of his ongoing effort to build lifelong habits, bring out the best in children, and help his students maximize their amazing potential.

VOCABULARY 180The first of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Be a consistent model. The most powerful way for adults to teach any character trait to children is to serve as a living embodiment of that idea. Children are paying close attention to us, and our actions speak louder than our words. To help children develop responsibility, we need to demonstrate it ourselves. Among other things, that means we take initiative to solve problems, rather than complain about them, and own our actions, rather than attempt to place blame or make excuses.

The second of 9 the Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Establish a sense of purpose. Children will be more likely to take responsibility for their learning when they understand the multiple purposes they are serving in school and find meaning in their work. I make a concerted effort at the beginning of each school year to help my students understand how working hard and doing well in school will help them improve their lives and maximize their future options. The process of writing a class mission statement helps us identify these purposes and produces a powerful reference point that we review throughout the year.

The third of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Let students’ actions and choices determine their opportunities. Author Angela Watson believes that teachers need to convey the message to students that their actions and choices influence our actions and choices. Explicitly making this point helps children understand the power they have to shape the direction of the class. If, for example, they want to do more cooperative learning, they can create more opportunities for themselves by behaving responsibly and doing a great job during initial cooperative learning activities. Student motivation skyrockets when they know that the choices they make matter and that they will be held accountable for their behavior.

The fourth of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Reduce the use of extrinsic rewards. Though extremely popular and prevalent, the use of rewards to manage student behavior presents a whole host of problems for classroom teachers. Alfie Kohn describes these drawbacks in detail in his well-known book Punished By Rewards. One of the main problems associated with the use of rewards is that they have the effect of controlling student behavior. Consequently, rewards thwarts our efforts to help kids develop responsibility because individuals cannot exercise self-control when their actions are being controlled.

The fifth of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Use think-starters. Imagine Randy hands me a paper without his name at the top. If I tell him to write his name before turning in his work, that would be an example of what legendary educator Madeline Hunter calls a “think-stopper” because I am telling Randy what to do. Instead, I say, “Randy, what do you need to do before turning in your work?” That would be a “think-starter” because I am putting the responsibility on Randy. By asking rather than telling, I increase Randy’s future capacity and make it more likely that he will take responsibility next time for remembering what to do. 

The sixth of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Encourage “meta-cognitive” thinking. Goal-setting, reflection, and self-evaluation help students better understand their strengths and weaknesses and get to know themselves as learners on a deeper level. Once children develop this keen level of self-awareness, they are more motivated to take responsibility for their learning and commit themselves to improving their work and behavior. Because time is such a precious commodity in our classrooms these days, we may not be able to do as many of these metacognitive activities as we wish, but we should strive to incorporate meaningful opportunities to set goals, reflect, and self-evaluate into our day as often as we can. 

The seventh of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Don’t do things for students that they can do for themselves. Every day I walk with a group of students to the cafeteria. When we arrive, the first two kids in line get our lunch cards and pass them out to everybody else. I could easily distribute the cards myself, but I believe it is important for the children to take on as much responsibility as they can handle throughout the school day. By empowering them in this manner, we provide natural opportunities for children to take initiative, solve problems independently, and demonstrate responsibility.

The eighth of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Recognize noteworthy student efforts. Every year I have a few students who tend to sit passively at their desks when they encounter difficulty rather than take responsibility to solve their own problems or get the help they need. One great way to show these children an alternative approach is to recognize examples of students who take charge and demonstrate responsibility. Hearing about how their classmates handle challenging situations can be far more powerful than listening to a teacher’s explanation. Plus, this type of recognition can have a terrific effect on class chemistry and help the kids see one another as resources.

The ninth of the 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility:

Share personal stories to inspire children. Storytelling is an incredibly powerful teaching strategy because the emotional connection the kids make with the messages we are conveying enables them to remember our words for a long time. To help children become more responsible, we can share stories from our own lives about times when we took action to solve a problem, reach a goal, or overcome an obstacle. Sharing personal stories also deepens the bond we have with our students.

Give these 9 Best Classroom Management Tips to Foster Student Responsibility a try in class with your pupils or at home with your children.

Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. He has written several books for educators and parents, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a TimeEight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8, and the soon-to-be-released Rock It! Steve is also the creator of the award-winning Chase Manning Mystery Series for kids 8-12. For Teaching Tips, articles, and other valuable resources and strategies on teaching the whole child, visit Follow Steve on Twitter (@stevereifman), subscribe to his “Teaching Kids” YouTube channel, check out his two professional development courses for educators on, and visit his TeachersPayTeachers page. 


Special Offer

Steve would like to offer you his three new Udemy courses at a discounted rate. 

To enroll in “Beyond Compliance: A Progressive Approach to Classroom Management,” visit

To enroll in “The Home-School Connection: A Complete Guide to Parent Involvement,” visit

If your children or students would like to write their own mysteries this summer, enroll them in “The Ultimate Mystery Writing Course For Kids” by visiting Steve’s two courses for teachers feature a compilation of his favorite ideas and strategies that are based on his experience as an expert in providing the best possible classroom management tips that foster student responsibility. 


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