Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Student Responsibility

In 2013- 2014, I am making a number of fundamental changes to my teaching. Over the next few days, I will share these with you. I am excited about them; I fully believe they will change my teaching and my students’ learning for the better. The first is about changing my students’ behaviour through a shift in my own.

As a teacher, my successes exhilarate me and my failures crush my completely. I am acutely aware of how my actions impact others and my future. As a person, I am learning not to allow such thoughts to dominate my life.

More unhealthily, I take responsibility for my students’ failures. If they don’t perform as I expect them to, I take it personally.

Quite rightly at times, I examine what I can do differently to change their performance. At other times, I take on personal responsibility for their every action and behaviour.

They are all over the age of 16.

I am not their mother.

What am I doing?

Until now, I thought it was helping. I thought that worrying about their every action and taking it on board was caring about my students. I thought that by worrying about it, I was doing something about it. If I got concerned and showed them I was concerned then the behaviour would change.

This summer, after the last year, seems to have provided the space needed for the fundamental changes my teaching required. My students need to take responsibility. I need to teach them that taking responsibility for their own actions is an essential part of becoming an adult.

After speaking to some colleagues about higher expectations in our classrooms, an idea from @emberlinP stuck with me. I decided it was just the solution I needed. He spoke about a colleague who used to keep a ‘black book.’ In this black book, students would write explanations for their behaviour. If it didn’t comply with the classroom rules then they had to give their excuses.

In my new pursuit of no longer making excuses for my students, I wanted no more excuses from my students.

Here’s a usual conversation with a student about why they were late:

Me: Why were you late today? (*thinking- they’re just going to give me some rubbish excuse- brain switches off.)

Student: Oh, yeah, my bus was late. I had to wait for like 40 minutes and it was really cold! No buses came for ages. There were loads of us there. The traffic was really bad. (* Translation- you slept in)

Me: Right. (*I didn’t believe a word but I’ll let you think I did because that’s easier and quicker than getting into a conversation about it). Are you not going to apologise for being late? (*His actions have personally offended me because he is MY student). 

Student: Oh yeah, sorry Hannah. But it wan’t my fault. It was the bus.

I have become so accustomed to listening to students’ ‘excuses’ that I’ve switched off to them. This doesn’t mean I am unable to differentiate though- I know the students who have genuine reasons for such behaviour.

Towards the end of this year, my AS students got used to the fact I wanted the real reasons for them being late. A new conversation would ensue:

Me: Why are you late today?

Student: I’m sorry Hannah. I slept in because my dad was supposed to wake me up. He didn’t know I was in college first thing. (* Translation- you slept in)

Me: You shouldn’t be relying on your dad to wake you up. Can you set an alarm? I find it really difficult to wake up on a morning so I have 3 different alarms. Perhaps you could try this?

Student: Yeah, I could do that. My dad says he doesn’t mind though. He just needs to remember!

I was starting to get the truth and it gave me a real insight into these students’ lives: they were blaming other people. Every single time. Without fail. I was now getting honesty but it wasn’t the truth I had hoped for. I wanted more. I wanted them to feel a sense of responsibility for their own actions.

From September, the classroom will have a black black book in it: The Black Book. 


This book is from Wilkinsons (£2.25). I stuck foam letters to the front and then sticky back plastic was placed over the top. 

The pages are empty and I’ll be telling my students I’d like them to stay that way. I’ll say that I definitely don’t want it filled all the way to the back. It will be for 2 AS English classes and 1 A2 class so it’s a big ask but it’s all part of my higher expectations plan this year.

There will be 3 kinds of slips: 1 for lateness, 1 for absence and 1 for not handing homework in. I was just going to give blank slips but have since added a little more guidance to them. This came from reading about student accountability HERE from @TeachingTricks

What I didn’t want to provide was a list of excuses to be ticked. Yes, it would be quicker and easier but my students are older: I want them to really think about what they will write because it’s going in The Black Book. 

Here are each of the templates:

Absence Slip

Homework Slip

Lateness Slip

  • I will be able to use The Black Book during 1-1 tutorials.
  • Their other teachers can consult it.
  • The Sixth Form Manager can consult it.
  • I can use it at parents evening.

I’ll let you know come September what kind of impact this is having on students’ behaviour.

I have had a huge problem ever since I started teaching to track everything I needed to. I’ve always had electronic registers and I’ve generally kept homework in my head. These may sound like fundamental things to you but they just felt like administration I didn’t need. I’d USUALLY remember and that was ok.

I’ve now realised that if I can effectively manage these things then a lot of the behaviours I’d like to see from students will come because they’ll see how organised I am and what high expectations I have. I looked at teacher planners but they included a lot of pages I wouldn’t use. So I decided to make my own. It will be seriously simple but will only include pages I’d like.


  1. My timetable (as I now have 40% of my time on teacher CPD)
  2. AS Schedule
  3. A2 Schedule
  4. Assessment and enrichment schedule
  5. Attendance trackers
  6. Homework trackers

It is made with hole-punched card and treasury tags so I can add and remove items easily. This means it won’t get too bulky to carry around. I can edit it every half term and file away old content.

Attendance Trackers

Homework Trackers

The booklet will be open at the attendance page at the start of each lesson. By the time term starts I will have a class list so all of their names will be listed down the left hand side. Students will sign in with a time. At the end of the lesson I can then highlight in one colour the late students and in another then absent ones. I can then ring/ email/ text absent students and monitor the late ones to ensure it doesn’t become too regular. It also means I can easily track who has/ hasn’t written in The Black Book. For a while now, I have had a class closure measure. 5 minutes into the lesson (unless you have let me know you won’t be in the lesson on time in advance) you won’t be allowed in. These students will be required to sign into the booklet near the door and work in the study room. They then come back at the end of the lesson to discuss what they’ve missed.

My hope is that these measures will force students’ to take more responsibility for their own learning through my own behaviour shift. I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing in your classrooms to get students to take more responsibility.  

Oh, and the booklet has lovely laminated wrapping paper as a cover and back that will make me happy every day:


My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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