George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Leadership

Equation of Success: Top Ten Responsibilities that Students Must Own

Middle-school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron says requiring students to take responsibility in their own academic success is an important part of the school reform equation.

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 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?

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

Not to co-opt the theme, but, depending on how old - or mature - your kids, you may want the 10 or 11 rubrics, or the 8 from Packer, or the 4 from Bob Sternberg's WICS (Wisdom-Intelligence-Creativity-Synergy). And the key to making any of those "soft skills" self-assessments work is to ask "how're ya doin'" in a friendly enough way to get the truth. And to encourage your students to ask that of others. The best of all climates is a collegial learning lab, and that's remarkably available with a few almost ritualistic questions that trump all those mandates.

Joshua Bourne's picture

Those are great additional tools for success for each party involved. The ability for a student to honestly reflect on what he or she does to determine whether it is working for them is critical. Also, students have to make an investment into their work. They have to recognize that when their name goes on a paper or an assignment that everything within the assignment represents them.

Parents absolutely need to reflect on their time management and adjust it accordingly to monitor their child's work. Taking an interest in what their child is doing is essential to building their confidence as a student.

Teachers have to be consistent always in their classrooms. Students in th heat of the moment may not like a decision made that effects them, but deep down and over time they will appreciate fairness and be more apt to apply themselves.

Ginger's picture

I enjoyed reading your blogs regarding student success. I am in total agreement with you that all of the components are necessary for students to be successful. I teach sixth grade in a low socioeconomic community. So often parents develop a thought that once their child reaches middle school that they magically become independent and no longer require support. I am going to share the responsiblities you have stated for both parent and student with them. The one responsibility I would like to add for the student is to maintain a positive attitude.

Trev Wood's picture

Next semester I will be teaching Strategic English 10 students. This class is offered to lower level performing students who need extra help/accommodations. I love the 10 rules kids can follow to avoid their own failure. I have seen posters that have a list of ways that "you can fail this course", but I like to keep things positive and the list of 10 from above is definitely positive and easy to understand.



This will indeed be of use to me.
Trev Wood

Nick's picture
High school science teacher, Walden Grad student

I really enjoyed reading your blog on student success. I have been looking for something like this to share with my students and colleagues as we have been discussing student responsibility recently in our PLC.

Zedekiah Franklin's picture

Wow I agree with you totally. These are some great tips and I will try to apply some of these tips in the near future.

Jeri Hyske's picture
Jeri Hyske
7th grade Math, Science, AVID teacher from California

This is my first experience with a blog. Your blog caught my attention because I am a firm believer that students need to understand that becoming educated is their responsibility. I explain to my students that I am their guide to help them navigate the waters, and their life vest to make sure they stay afloat, but they have to paddle the boat.
At the beginning of each school year we talk about responsibilities; mine, theirs, and their parents. We list our responsibilites and they keep a copy in their portfolio, we revisit them as necessary.
I really like your list of ten responsibilites, I am going to borrow them and use them with my students!
This is not an issue for inside the classroom, but I feel students should realize they are responsible to their school community, they need to do all they can to make school a safe, enjoyable learning environment for all. Our school is working hard to inspire this in all our students and it has not been easy.

Susan Babb's picture
Susan Babb
Seventh grade Math teacher

I really enjoyed reading your post and will incorporate your list in my classroom. I was happy to see that your equation of success started with family then student then school. Although it is a combined effort, I find more pressure and accountability is placed on the teachers but not the students and parents. At the end of the year if you have students that didn't pass the standardized tests, the administration asks the teacher what they did or didn't do to help the students prepare. However, I don't hear them asking the parents or students what they did or didn't do to help pass the test or grade level. It seems as though there is no longer any accountability placed on the student.

I agree with the suggestion from John Bennet that self assessment would be a good addition for the students. Students need to learn to look at where they are in the learning process and evaluate how to get where they want to be. What is working for them and what is hurting them, are important questions that students need to be able to think about and answer in order to achieve goals.

I work in a Title 1 school where a large majority of my students come from broken homes. Students need to realize that regardless of the situation at home they can still be successful if they choose to be. As teachers, we can only encourage parents and students we can't force them. At some point the students have to decide for themselves that they will be responsible for their own success. Middle school years are difficult years for students, but very important transitional years. They must learn what it means to be responsible for themselves in order to do well in High School. Too many students drop out because they can't handle that responsibility placed on them at the higher level of education.

Jennifer Paxton's picture

I think we need to give students more clear expectations such as these that help them develop the habits they need to be successful. These suggestions are habits of mind that carry into higher education and eventually their jobs. Being the smartest person in the class doesn't guarantee success in life, but developing the ability to get noticed as someone who will do what it takes to achieve just might!

Jill's picture
Middle School French teacher from Wisnton-Salem, NC

I have just written a mission for myself to guide my teaching practices for the future. Part of that was to help students to be responsible for their own learning. I love your list of 10 Student Responsibilities here. I'd like to post it as a poster in my classroom, as a reminder to students!


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