Equation of Success: Top Ten Responsibilities that Students Must Own | Edutopia
Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Equation of Success: Top Ten Responsibilities that Students Must Own

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Updated 01/2014

I have written before in the past on various blog sites and networks about the vital equation that must exist in order for a student not to fail in our schools:

Family + Student + School + Policymakers/Voters = Student Success

Each variable is co-dependent on the other. Each link in the chain must do its part, pulling its weight for the goal to be achieved. To tackle this polynomial equation takes deconstructing its parts. Therefore, much like a Top Chef contestant deconstructs a grilled cheese sandwich to analyze its ingredients, I am going to break down our education equation into parts and analyze what each must contribute for a student to succeed.

So I've posted three articles simultaneously, a webquest of sorts through my blogs, covering the following:

  • At Huffington Post, you'll find my take on what the family and home life must contribute to the equation.
  • In this post, I've written on what the student must bring to the table.
  • At my personal Web site, Tweenteacher, you can read about the schools' responsibilities, specifically those of the teachers.

(Stop by each site and look at each of the variables. For without any of them, the equation will undoubtedly fail.)

The Student's Responsibility

Every parent and teacher of a struggling student has looked in the mirror at one point or other and asked themselves: What more can I do if Johnny is not helping himself? Many feel that there is an unconditional amount that adults should do since students are still learning how to be responsible for themselves. However, in the era of Race to the Top (RTTT) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), those in control of school accountability need to acknowledge that there are some students sabotaging themselves despite the Herculean efforts of the adults around them.

Nevertheless, a student should be allowed to struggle without being abandoned to his or her sole efforts. School is a place of learning, after all. But students struggle for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that their emotional and impetuous side of their brains develop earlier than their logical, rational side. In other words, they are wired to make poor decisions.

That's not an excuse, but it does mean that we adults have a responsibility to be patient and consistent guides as students learn how to own their own learning.

To help students along, here is a list of some basic rules that children should follow to avoid their own failure and to step up as a variable in their own equation of success:


Number One: Be your own advocate. Stake a claim in the classroom by making sure the teacher knows who you are...in a good way.

Number Two: Ask lots of questions....and show confusion appropriately.

Number Three: Communicate your struggles to your teachers. What is going on that affects your work?

Number Four: Think of school as your office in training. Are you a good co-worker?

Number Five: Dress for success, but don't panic, you don't have to wear a suit to be taken seriously.

Number Six: At least do the minimum so you aren't creating gaps that are harder to bridge later. Better yet, do more.

Number Seven: Sweat a little. School is your brain gym. You have to work out your muscles, make them a little sore, if you're going to lift a heavier load later on.

Number Eight: Find ways to relate to your reading and writing. What original thoughts and experiences can you bring to the lesson to make it come alive for yourself?

Number Nine: Be in class. Don't jeopardize your own training.

Number Ten: Surround yourself with other students who can help you. You don't have to be best friends with everyone you seek advice from, but find friends or acquaintances that are rooting for you, the best of you.

Look, it's important that you trust adults when we say that your future is important, and that what you do now affects it. It's also important that you know that while many people may contribute to your struggles, you're the only one who will suffer if you fail. Rise above them. Be stronger than the hurdles that life throws at you.

Live up to your potential. Do your job. Look ahead. Keep up your end of the bargain in your own equation of success.

The Final Variable in the Equation of Success

Of course, the last vital variable is what we all, the voters and the policymakers who work for us, must do for education to succeed.

It's important enough that I want to end each of my three posts with this challenge: make education a priority in the voting booths and the campaigns. Retired baby boomers can't dismiss educational issues, saying they are no longer their problem to solve. Younger families coming up through the system can't cut-and-run from our public schools in their indecision of how to educate their own children. The problems that plague some of our schools belong to us all.

Public schools are a miracle of this country. The mission -- a free education for all -- is one that anyone on any side of the political fence should be fighting for as a top priority. But it's up to voters to send the message that it is important, and it's up to policymakers to do the right thing despite party politics and lobbyists.

Cutting education will only cut the future of this country, and that hurts us all. With every vote that does not pass and with every "nay" on the floor, our voters and policymakers condemn our system to further failure.

The equation of student success isn't about who is to blame. Rather, it forces us to ask the question: how can each variable that involves us all, better do its part?

In regards to what students can do to own their own learning, what would you add to this Top Ten list for a student to avoid their own failure?

Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture

Thanks for the kind words, Tiesa. I'd love to hear of the students have any ones to add as well!

Thanks for reading jumping into the conversation!

-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Beverly's picture
Fourth Grade Teacher, Grad Student at Walden Unversity

I read all of your posts, and agree wholeheartedly. Your student responsibilities blog is especially relevant. As the debate on education continues, we hear about the role of the teacher and parent, but the role of the student is rarely addressed. As educators, we are preparing our students for success in the business world, and as such,should begin early in preparing them to accept the responsibility that will be expected of them as adults. We live in a society where children and adults alike often look for external factors as the cause of their struggles. Kudos to you for presenting a common-sense approach to student success!

Jocelyn Kyte's picture
Jocelyn Kyte
2nd Grade Teacher from Iowa; Grad Student

What a great post. I agree that student responsibility plays a role in effective learning. A lot of the major arguments of late have been about how home life or the school systems are failing our students. When I read a item on studentsfirst.org about this generation of students being the first to be less educated than their parents, it was startling. However, students to play a very large role in their education. We can't continue to look for external factors for being unsuccessful. Students need to learn that they need to be an active participant in their education and take responsibility accordingly.

Lesley Mansfield's picture
Lesley Mansfield
High School Math Special Education Teacher

First, I would like to say, well said. I will be sharing your top 10 suggestions to my high school students tomorrow as well as your equation for success. I think too many take for granted how much we, as educators, strive for their success. They find it easier to let us do the work and, at times, "forget" they play a role in their own success.
I also found the family responsibilities on your personal website interesting. I agree that parent involvement is key to success of students. However, what do we, as educators, do when parent involvement lacks? As a special education teacher, I hold IEP's where parent participation is critical. I make many phone calls home, notes sent with the student, letters in the mail, or emails to parents. At times, I get nothing in return. I feel for the student in these times. But what happens to your equation when parent participation just isn't there? How much of the parent responsibility can be taken over by the school or the student?
My number 11: Believe you can succeed. In order to succeed, you must believe you can succeed.
Many of my students lack the confidence in their work. They second guess themselves and often change something that was right.
Again, thank you for your great insight!

Amy Harris's picture
Amy Harris
Second Grade Teacher/Grad student from Tennessee

I read your comments and completely agree. So many times it feels as if teachers are caring the load and we are held accountable for things that are out of our control. I like the ten steps for students, and plan on sharing those with my second graders in way they can understand. I teach in an area where we have a high poverty level plus deployed parents for 6 months to a year at a time and so many do not meet those basics of parental repsonibilities. I feel many times I become their parent, but i will continue to ensure their success, and look forward to providing them encouragement daily.

Emilio Bermudez's picture
Emilio Bermudez
Bilingual Math Teacher, Grad Student at Walden University

This is my first ever blog and first time I even visited such a site. This is the reason why I am very excited and empowered by your post Heather, thank you very much.

Because I really loved the ten guidelines, I have taken them and placed them on a poster and reviewed them with my students. I spoke about each one and loved listening to what they had to say. One of the things that I always tell my students is that school is their training ground for life, much like you say in number four. After some discussion I also asked them what they wanted to add to it and they came up with some other great additions. I felt that giving them the opportunity to create the basis for what they will be assessed on was important. Based on these I then asked them to grade themselves on how they are doing and we will continue to monitor their success and progress.

Joe Beckmann's picture
Joe Beckmann
Retired teacher educator - UMass, EDC, various school systems

Your points are fine, if echoing others, but your positioning of them is simply wrong. They are tools useful to any person's educational exploration, and hardly mandates. Mandates are things like tests - unavoidable if often unreliable. To avoid that conundrum, I strongly suggest (not mandate) that you look into Arnold Packer's Verified Resume system (http://learningmatters.tv/blog/news/press-release-listen-up-awarded-4000...).

Packer, of the SCANS Report of the 1990's, and "inventor of the soft skills," formulated eight categories of skills: responsibility, teamwork, coping with diversity, inquiry, creativity, listening, work with tech, and planning. He then urged scoring on a five point scale from "never" to "all the time," and that scoring take place at regular intervals.

We adapted that to self-scoring and group comparing times, both to accommodate new classes and members, and to build self-assessment into a routine, regular, and frequent activity in any subject, any project, any event. And, since that self-assessment was in the context of the group, it also built the group, and addressed, in only positive terms, issues like attendance - so you can help and be helped by others - that are usually the retreat of failed communication.

Ironically enough, almost all your 10 points (or 11 or more for quibblers) can fit comfortably within Packer's 8, and the process is at least as important - critical to - the product. Our challenge now is to explore whether self-assessment changes variables like attendance, grades, aspirations and those pesky test scores. Probably.

Brandon's picture

If we hold students accountable for their actions at school. They will eventually take ownership of thier education. This is a major step in creating an effective learing environment. As long as we feed students the information, they do not have to take owership. this is a great blog with good tips for beening successful.

Nicole Storey's picture
Nicole Storey
Middle School Language Arts Teacher from Ohio; Walden Grad Student

I love this post! I work for a charter school within an inner city school district. Most of my students are not interested in their education and have blamed their failures soley on the school in which they have attended. They take no responsibility for their actions as learners, because their families place no value on education. I find it hard and frustrating to motivate students who think what they are learning has no value. I love your top 10 list and will be sharing it with my middle school students. I think it is important for them to see simple ways to become actively involved in their education. As a teacher, I think that by continuing to hold students to a higher standard of learning they will eventually take over the ownership of their education. The way this was worded, my students will respond and hopefully implement some ideas from the list. My goal is start small but think big! Thank you for your post!

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

Thanks for the reply. My schedule has prevented me from responding until now.

In terms of sel-assessment, I agree young students probably don't know the term. I guess I'd get them doing it by working with them to become effective problem solvers. For me, effective problem solving among other things requires frequent self-assessing. Of course, in stepping or guiding the young students through this, I wouldn't use the term but rather would say something like "do you think you were able to do what you started out to do, and if not, why not?" the beauty of EPS efforts with them is you can choose "problems" that greatly interest them - thereby promoting the intrinsic motivation for the effort. By including the repeated self-assessment, they will learn it's importance to EPS.

Then it's a straightforward step to help the discover that EFFECTIVE LEARNING is but another "problem to be solved" - using the same EPS approach already introduced and experienced! And since hopefully they've already learned how important repeated self-assessment is to EPS, it should be clear to them that EPS applied to learning therefore includes frequent checks (writing out explanations learned, doing practice quizzes, problems, questions provided - often online these days, etc.) of how well topics are understood or nor - which of course is sells-assessing the learning process without using the term. I could go on about EPS and effective learning for a long time but I hope this at least introduces the framework.

With regard to parental / family involvement, again starting with young students, I would do two things for sure: (1) I'd send home "homework" that includes family involvement - for example, when I visit a classroom to work with students on buoyancy, the teacher sends home a note asking family to work with their student to test common items around the home in the sink and to record the description of the item and whether it floated or not. By starting with "non-knowledge" efforts, regardless of prior involvement or lack thereof, family won't feel threatened of the efforts; and (2) I'd organize an informal family activity center - getting students with their families to do activities organized by willing community members (e.g., making holiday wreaths for seniors, recording / collecting specimens of plants along a nature trail, clearing a nature trail, etc:) AND working together - student and family - to document what happened. As with the EPS with students, gradually help with learning by the students and family will clearly help the families to understand they can help, need to be involved, and - oh by the way - have richer experiences as a family.

I hope this makes some sense and puts some flesh on the bones,

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.