Getting Real about Personal Responsibility

Oct 28, 2013 by

cheyanne and momThe Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course has been offered in several Los Angeles schools for nearly ten years. This most recent class was taught by Connie Bessman-Natt and was not without its unique challenges, including dealing with the emotions of having a classmate murdered this spring.

“As a single parent it’s my job to show my daughter what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Rebekah and grandmother“The world is not a friendly place.”

Stephen Smoke, the author of the FREE course (available to any teacher as a FREE PDF DOWNLOAD on this site) worked with Connie to tweak the course wording to make it more meaningful to students and responsive to their needs.

In fact, Stephen sat in on a few of the classes. “One thing that was different about this particular class is that it was ‘opt-in.’ That is, it was offered at a college campus near a couple of high schools, and participating students signed up and received special credit for completing the class. Several of the students’ parents and grandparents brought them to every class. To me, that shows a special commitment – on the part of the student and the parent or guardian – to do the things important to succeed. Clearly, to them, personal responsibility is important.”

Shortly after the class was completed, Connie and some of the students (as well as a few of the parents and grandparents who watched — or participated in — the class) were interviewed. This video was produced and edited by Ken Hanada, with the help of Hiroshi Igaki. Ken is the producer of “Pursuit of Loneliness” (an official 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selection). The photographs in this post are lifted from the video.

grandfather“Now in most cases, you’ve got both parents working. Kids have lots of free time on their hands. They need supervision.”

In their comments, the viewer senses an unmistakable commitment to the fundamentals of a successful life. “As I watched the video,” explains Stephen Smoke, “I got the feeling that something separates these students from the crowd. A large part of what separates them from their peers – besides their own commitment to succeed – is the commitment and support of key authority figures in their lives. Also, the elements of love and mutual respect are on display in the video. These elements are often taken for granted, or actually missing from too many relationships.”

connie 1“The Bill of Responsibilities Course will help you become a better teacher.”

The Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course

The Teen Bill of Responsibilities Course is a 6-part course that can be taught in one day, over a number of days, or one lesson per week over a 6-week period. Each lesson deals with a different aspect of personal responsibility and each lesson builds on the previous lesson.

bor rd dsThe course is taught using a combination of teaching methods: the Socratic Method and Guided Discussion. In this course, the views of the teacher – and the author, for that matter – are irrelevant to the students’ learning experiences. Questions are asked and students’ answers are acknowledged but not judged. That is, there are no “wrong” answers. All the experiences discussed are the students’ experiences, and all realizations and conclusions reached about the idea of personal responsibility will be the students’ own.

Even though teachers are instructed not to make judgments about students’ answers, that doesn’t mean the course teaches that making a judgment is wrong. On the contrary – part of taking personal responsibility is the ability to understand that rights are linked to responsibilities and that people are accountable for their actions. When the student understands this, in his own terms, the student begins to cultivate and exhibit better judgment in determining his own actions.



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Teen Bill Of Responsibilities Course in LA

Sep 2, 2013 by

connie4As the teacher of the The Teen Bill of Responsibilities class, I can say that students learn the difference between rights and responsibilities. They understand that they do not have the right to do anything they want, and that more rights come with more responsibilities. Sharing their own experiences about responsibilities at home, in school, in their communities, with family and friends, has been eye opening for students and this teacher.

One of the good things about the class discussions is that there are no right or wrong answers. This does NOT mean there is no such thing as a right or wrong thing to do. The “no right or wrong answer” policy simply allows students to open up, freely, without fear of offering an incorrect answer. Students feel free to discuss what personal responsibility really means to them. Their answers are helpful to themselves as well as to one another. They have learned that responsible teens attend school daily, unless there is an emergency. Responsible teens complete classroom assignments and work hard to make good grades. Responsible teens demonstrate good behavior at home, at school and in the community. Responsible teens often look at themselves as good role models to other teens. I think that the general discussion of their personal responsibilities inspires self-confidence, motivation and self-esteem.

I believe that students enjoy the discussion about responsibilities when it comes to the family because they rely on their families for so much. One student said that she realized one of her responsibilities to her family, was to “do my best to succeed in school.”

Many students said they understand they should complete their chores at home. They understand the family structure and how important it is to them. They know that their families are responsible for them and they expressed appreciation and gratitude during the class discussion. They know their parents or guardians have more responsibilities than they do and as students they also know that they are not ready to take on those responsibilities at this time.

All the students in the class participated in the discussion about responsibilities to school and friends. They understand that they have to be more responsible in school to be able to succeed academically.

As a teacher, I know how very important it is to have responsible students in the classroom, because more instruction takes place instead of disruption.

BOR award gdThe issue of school safety was discussed because students can focus more clearly in a safe environment. Schools have responsibilities to students such as providing a quality education and safe campuses. Students have responsibilities to schools such as not endangering other students and not being disruptive.

Overall, the Teen Bill of Responsibilities class is a wonderful class where students learn how to stay on track, focus, and remain responsible. These life lessons learned help students differentiate themselves from the crowd.

I really love teaching this class to help teens become more responsible to their families, schools, communities and friends. I am also learning from the students through the discussions.

The parents are happy to drive their teens to the class (which takes place after school) and some even sit in the class with the students. They have expressed to me how important the Teen Bill of Responsibilities class is for their teens because it helps keep them on track.

Connie Bessman-Natt


Los Angeles Unified School District


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