What does it mean to be Response-able?

As I write my book Work Less Teach More I am researching ways to help teachers be effective and save time.

One of the great books on effectiveness is a book by Stephen Covey called The 7 Habits of highly Effective People. This book is an absolute classic and provides one of the starting points for the book.The concept of being response-able (drawn from breaking down the word responsible) 

The Concept of Being Response-Able

This is the concept – you as an individual are able to choose how you will respond to any stimuli. This means you are able to control yourself and make a conscious choice concerning how everything in your life will affect you.

Dr. Stephen Covey states,

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

Essentially, we are responsible for our own lives. How we behave is a function of our decisions, not our environment. An effective person doesn’t blame external factors for their behaviour. Our behaviour is a result of our own conscious choice, based on values rather than conditions, based on feeling. 

This concept debunks the idea that we don’t have a choice, or that we have to do certain things. Really, we choose to do certain things for various reasons. It may be that someone has told you to do something otherwise there will be a negative consequence you want to avoid or possibly a positive consequence you would like to receive.

Either way it is your choice.

Response-Able in Action

We see this concept in play all the time in our classrooms, and we often are response-able. When our students are rowdy or rude we often respond calmly to help address the underlying issues. We chose not to be pulled down by the student’s comments or actions. However, if we were not being response-able we might yell at the student in class, kick them out, and begin a bitter conversation in our head about the student possibly even beginning to doubt ourselves as a teacher. By doing so we would be allowing ourselves to respond in a poor way to the student.

We can see straight away how being response-able in our classroom can make a huge impact on the relationships we have with our students and the general tone of the classroom, but often we miss that this ability applies across all of life.

If You are Response-Able You Take Responsibility

We see this in ourselves when we blame others and play the victim. This is exactly what I was doing when I walked into my principals office and quit at the beginning of term 2. I was blaming my principal for how I was feeling. I was blaming him for my lack of time, for my lack of sleep, and was trying to hold him responsible for my lack of time spent with my family. But even within this situation I was the person responsible for my actions. I could have responded differently. I could have responded with kindness, generosity, humility, and love. But instead I became angry and was vindictive, thinking that making him suffer would make me feel better, but in the end we both suffered and so did the students I was serving. 

We need a Change

Today, I see lots of reactive people in teaching and we need to shift our response. We need to stop blaming everyone else for our lack of time. I’m not saying others are not impacting this, but I am saying we need to be response-able, we need to choose how we respond to this. If you, like me, have had lots of negative talk in your head about the system, your principal, the amount of admin and your lack of time it is time to stop. It is time to start taking responsibility for our own behaviour and to get a more positive mindset. 

One simple thing we can do to begin to do this is to avoid conversations that are about blame. Stop engaging in those negative conversations about others and instead focus on conversations that look at our own behaviour and what we can do to improve our situation. What actions can we take within our circle of influence?

Your circle of influence is the people in your life that you can have a positive effect on and the things you can change. This means, rather than focusing outward, we focus inward. We can also look to our roles and responsibilities and use this to have a positive impact on ourselves and others. Rather than getting cranky at your Principal or your department of education, consider what you can do to help yourself, those around you, and possibly even your principal or department.

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I would love to know your thoughts on this. Post a comment and I will ensure to respond when I am able.


  1. Sonal

    I feel like as I progress in my teaching career I am getting more and more jaded, angry and resentful. I remember hearing older teachers complain at the start of my career and I promised myself then that that would not be me. Here I am almost 10 years later (give or take couple years of mat leave) and I feel like I am morphing into those same teachers. Its very concerning because I got into teaching to make a difference and a lot of the time I feel like the ability to do that is being taken away for me. I really like this article because I can see now that engaging in the blame game actually achieves nothing. We need to change the conversation from CAN’T to CAN and maybe take back that control.

    1. Daniel Jackson Post author

      Thanks Sonal. It was great to meet you last week at the workshop. I hope you get back your control. Let me know how it all goes🙂

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