The Importance of Personal Responsibility for Middle School Students
Michelle Dwyer of Prince of Peace Christian School discusses how Habitudes helped build a better culture within the school by teaching students the importance of responsibility and accountability.
WHAT PROBLEMS OR ISSUES WERE YOU FACING THAT LED YOU TO USE HABITUDES?
We’ve seen a shift in today’s students. We’re finding more and more students lack a sense of responsibility and accountability. This is partly due to the parenting styles in their homes. Parents keep “swooping in” to save the day. We saw 7th and 8th graders still relying on their parents to communicate with their teachers. Bullying increased because students didn’t take responsibility for their actions. We could see a breeding ground for immaturity, and we wanted to proactively address it with character and leadership development. Our current leadership curriculum was too dry and didn’t engage the students, so we looked at alternative options.
When we came across Habitudes, we saw that it might help us address our challenges. Our team saw that the lessons in the curriculum were simple, short, and visual (just how today’s students want to learn). One goal we had for Habitudes was to help students take ownership of their lives and become responsible for what they do and say. We also wanted to help students identify their strengths and purpose and help them learn how to use their unique qualities to fulfill that purpose. Another goal we had was to build a better 8th grade class. The 8th graders influence the culture of the younger grades, and unfortunately, the previous 8th graders were not the most positive of influencers. We wanted to proactively prepare the 7th graders to be a better class. We believed this approach would decrease bullying and create a positive school culture.
HOW DID HABITUDES HELP?
In our school, we use Habitudes in 7th and 8th grades. The whole 7th grade goes through Book 1 while the 8th grade goes through Book 2. Each Tuesday, we go over one image (we call it “HabiTuesday”), and over the years, we’ve seen them make a great impact on the lives of our students. In both the 7th and 8th graders, we saw signs of empathy and responsibility increasing. What’s more, I have seen an increase in students standing up for others who are being bullied.
This year’s 8th grade class has been phenomenal, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they’ve been through two years of Habitudes. For the first time, we have a student leadership team. When we opened registration, half the 8th grade class signed up to be on the team. This group of students lead service projects that help improve the school and community, including a Bully Free Week, Christmas presents for students in need, and a Trunk or Treat community event. This team sets the example for the whole school and rallies other students around these initiatives, which has had a positive impact on school culture.
One benefit that I love about Habitudes is that it helps students identify their strengths. In discussing the Habitude Golden Buddha, one of our students, Andrew [name changed], took a strengths survey and identified that his top strength was Empathy (which is not a popular strength to have as a middle school boy). As our class was discussing each of our strengths, Andrew stood up and shared his strength, and one of the students in the class rose his hand and commented, “Wait… your strength is like a super power.” This is one example of many that illustrates how our students were able to identify and appreciate their own strengths those of others. We’ve had a problem with students focusing too much on what they don’t have strengths in and not on what they do have. It warms my heart each time I see a student discover that they have gifts inside of them. Too many believe they don’t.
One surprising result of Habitudes was how well our students remembered the images. As a teacher, we know many students forget what they learned after taking the test. At the end of the semester, however, I gave our students a pop quiz, asking them to name each Habitude we covered that semester, what principle it represented, and how to apply it. 90% of the students made a perfect score on the quiz, and the other 10% made high A’s! And the answers weren’t just regurgitated from the workbook—they gave the principle and the application in their own words. I was thoroughly encouraged by this result.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND HABITUDES TO OTHER EDUCATORS?
Absolutely. If you want to host important conversations with students (but don’t know how or don’t have the opportunity until there’s a behavioral issue), then use Habitudes. It helps facilitate those tough conversations in a positive way. It’s preventative education, rather than reactionary. I look forward to my Tuesdays each week when we discuss Habitudes. I believe these discussions are some of the most important we can have when developing students.