Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher

Ownership of Behavior

Behavior 2by Patrick Seifer

I was thinking about a question recently—what does a good student look like? As I reflected, I realized that I should ask the question differently. Perhaps I should ask—what does a good student do?

Here are some of my answers to the second question.

  • A good student always comes to class on time.
  • A good student hands work in on time.
  • A good student asks lots of questions.

As you can see, many of my thoughts focus on behavior. I have more responses, but I wonder what other responses you might have. Think of a few of your own responses before you continue to read.

As I continue to think about the question, I think of students I have had over the last five years and what made them “good”?  Certainly, these students always came to class. If they were absent, they contacted me to tell me, and they took the responsibility for the homework and finished it before the next class. These students’ questions in and out of class were about learning rather than simply preparing for the next exam. There was true ownership in their learning and behavior.

On the contrary, do you have students who sleep in class, check their cell phones constantly, and incessantly talk to the person next to them? I am sure you do, and so do I. How can we help these “poor” students become more like the “good” students?

One thing I do is to make my behavior expectations clear. I have my students read them together the first day of class. The following expectations are for first semester freshmen and are not perfect, but I hope it shows some possible ways to help students be more responsible for their own learning.


What would happen if I negotiated these with my students at the beginning of the semester? Would they be more encouraged to take ownership if we decided on the expectations together?

Let me share a story. Three students in one of my classes don’t seem to care about learning. They are seldom, if ever, prepared for class and don’t know any answers to my questions. I am convinced it is not because these students’ English levels are low. As I was sharing with a colleague about how much time these students use their cell phones for non-class related activities, she asked me if I had considered simply banning all cell phone use in class. That would solve the problem, but it would not help them be more responsible. Also, it would harm the other students who use their cell phones responsibly.

I spoke to two of the three students recently. I suggested that they not sit together in class and asked them to sit in the front of the classroom because I think they will be able to concentrate better. I made the suggestion (not a command), and I was willing to discuss further if the students disagreed with me or were unwilling to move and not sit together. I had a few more ideas, but fortunately they agreed with my suggestions. The two are doing much better now. Honestly, the third student still puts forth little effort, but he is not distracting me or other students anymore.

How could I have helped these three students come to their own conclusions about their behavior? Would that have helped them take even more ownership?

I share this story to illustrate that there are no simple methods to helping students become more responsible learners. However, this is one of our goals as educators. By engaging students in conversation and getting them involved in solutions for their own behavior, we help them take ownership of their behavior and their learning as well.

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • What are some ways you help students become more responsible and take ownership of their behavior?
  • Have you tried negotiating behavior expectations with your students? How did it work?
  • Have you tried collaboratively solving a behavior problem with a student (or group of students) so that they come to their own conclusions? How did it work?
  • How does the Master Teacher give you ownership of your behavior?

Try it out

  1. Try one of the techniques in this post with your students (negotiating behavior expectations with the class or collaborative problem-solving with an individual).
  2. Afterwards, reflect, possibly in writing, on this question: Do you think the student(s) will take ownership of their behavior? Why do you think so?
  3. Share some of your reflections with another teacher.

Post Author

Patrick Seifer has lived in Yinchuan, Ningxia, China since the fall of 2008. He has trained Chinese middle school English teachers and is currently in his 5th year of teaching at Ningxia University. He and his wife (Amy) have lived in China for more than 20 years, and their 18-year-old daughter (Abigail) was born and has been raised in China.

Photo by it’s me neosiam from Pexels

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This entry was posted on October 24, 2018 by in autonomous learning, learner ownership, Patrick Seifer, students who act out.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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