Classroom Culture: Responsibilities

Responsibilities are agreements that help children learn how to live, act, and interact in the classroom community. Create responsibilities together with your children to empower them to take ownership of and contribute to a positive classroom culture.

Responsibilities such as “We come to the rug safely and carefully” and “We put things back where they belong” teach children how to use space and materials in the room. Responsibilities such as “We root for each other” and “We use kind and caring words” help children learn the social skills needed to work and play together.

Responsibilities are the plan for how individuals in the community learn to take care of themselves, take care of each other, and take care of the classroom. These three areas become the basis for The Power of Three: a visual organizer, road-map, and reminder of community expectations.

Shifting Away from Rules and Towards Responsibilities

Do not use these rules, create responsibilities “Be respectful.” “Be safe.” “Stay in your seat.” Rules like these, or the ones in the poster shown to the right, are common in many classrooms. They are posted in the beginning of the year and enforced by the teacher. Children are expected to follow the rules and are given consequences when they don’t meet the expectations.

What message does this send to children? Whose duty is it to maintain the classroom climate? What role does the teacher play? How are mistakes viewed?

When we focus on responsibilities instead of rules, our thinking shifts about many aspects of classroom culture. Here are some of the differences between a teacher-directed, rules-based classroom and a child-centered responsibilities model:

  • When we teach responsibilities, our role becomes mentor instead of police officer or enforcer. Teacher and children share a commitment to contribute to and maintain a caring community.

  • If we view ourselves as mentors, then mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities instead of causes for punishments and consequences. Children are more likely to take risks in a supportive and accepting environment.

  • Responsibilities are proactive and ongoing. Responsibilities grow over time as children become more and more capable. Rules tend to be posted once in the beginning of the year and returned to only when a rule is broken.

  • Our goals become about effort and improvement over obedience. Responsibilities help us focus on and encourage children’s strengths while leaving room for growth.

  • Responsibilities invite cooperation and help us avoid power struggles. Responsibilities support all of our children – not just the ones who are “good at school.” They send the message, “All of us can contribute. All of us can learn here.”

    The Power of Three

Power of Three

The Power of Three is a framework for understanding how everyone contributes to the success of the classroom. The Power of Three conveys ways community members “take care of ourselves,” “take care of others,” and “take care of the classroom.”

The Power of Three anchors your classroom culture and launches conversations around expectations. Use it to create, teach, chart, and reinforce responsibilities with your children. Build the Power of Three with your children over time. Introduce the big concept of taking care of ourselves, others, and the classroom in the beginning of the year. Add responsibilities to the three categories as you learn and practice them with the children. Let the children contribute ideas for the responsibilities they want to learn and see in their community. The Power of Three isn’t owned by the teacher, it is by - and for - everyone in the classroom community.

The Power of Three will grow quickly as children take on more and more responsibility. Use it to capture all the great ways children are learning to act and interact in the classroom community. Review, revisit, and add to it often. Post it where children can access and refer to it throughout the day.

Power of Three Sample

The Power of Three can look different in different classrooms depending on your needs and the needs of your children. Here are some ideas to get you started. Remember, this is a tool that lives and grows and reflects the life of your classroom.

Power of Three Mini-Lessons

Take Care of Yourself

We come to the rug safely and carefully. We listen and look at the speaker (eye contact, open ears, open minds). We know how to sit on the rug (rug ready, rug behavior, carpet manners).
We try our best. We know that hard work matters (effort and improvement are valued). We know every minute counts (time together is precious).
We are prepared for school (breakfast, homework, clothing, sleep). We ask our friends for help. We learn from our mistakes.
We stay focused on a task. We know what we need. We get started right away.
We feel happy when we make someone else feel happy. We know what we can do if we are feeling angry. We use the resources in our room (anchor charts, word wall, etc.).
We try and solve our own challenges. We have ways to be independent. When we do the right thing, our hearts sing.
We have a positive attitude. Use words like “I can” and “I can try.”  

Take Care of Others

We use kind and caring words. We give each other enough space (line, rug, tables). We root for each other.
We follow the voice level chart. We know when to report and not tattle. We try to understand other’s feelings.
We are all in this together (teamwork, family). We learn in different ways. We know that power comes from within.
We take turns when needed. We are safe with our bodies. We tell each other how we feel and what we need (“I message”).
We see the best in others. We notice strengths in others. We think before we speak (stop and think).
We compliment each other. We give friendly reminders when needed. We let others fix their mistakes.
We respond quickly to classroom signals (hand up, bell, etc.)    

Take Care of Our Classroom

We put things back where they belong. We use materials safely and carefully. We walk safely around the room.
We use only what we need. We push in our chairs when we get up. We know how to use materials (markers, scissors, glue, crayons, etc.)
We use labels when cleaning up. We throw away trash. We clean up our tables or desks when it’s time to pack-up.
We are careful about what we touch in the room. We keep our desks and seat pockets organized.  

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Guidelines for Creating the Power of Three

The Power of Three is a way to anchor your classroom culture and launch conversations around responsibilities and expectations. Here are some ways to get the most out of this important tool.

  • Introduce the concept of the Power of Three in the first days of school. Add responsibilities to the three categories as you teach them to the children.

  • State responsibilities in child-friendly language. Use photos or drawings to illustrate your Power of Three chart for beginning readers.

  • Keep responsibilities simple.

  • State responsibilities in the positive. Focus on what the children should do not what they shouldn’t do. Use “we”, “us,” and “our” to show that everyone in the classroom is responsible.

  • Be consistent with what you say and how you say it. Be thoughtful about your expectations and carry them through the same way each time.

  • Keep responsibilities developmentally appropriate and realistic for your children.

  • Post responsibilities in the classroom where children can easily access them.

  • Use “take care of” language as much as possible throughout each day.

  • Add photographs or pictures of the students practicing the Power of Three next to the responsibility the picture portrays.

  • Add more responsibilities to the bulletin board over time as needs and challenges arise. Each new responsibility becomes a procedural lesson.

  • Share the Power of Three with families. Consider making them available in children’s home languages.

  • Take time to celebrate your children’s effort and improvement!

Introducing the Power of Three

Use the following lesson plan for ideas about how to introduce the Power of Three in your classroom. Change and modify the lesson to suit the needs of your own children.

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