Being responsible means being dependable, keeping promises and honoring our commitments. It is accepting the consequences for what we say and do. It also means developing our potential. People who are responsible don’t make excuses for their actions or blame others when things go wrong.
I have always been a responsible person. I may be rebellious at times, a rule breaker when I feel like it, but I am not someone who leans to being irresponsible.
I was brought up in a house where we were expected to be responsible for ourselves, our home, our belongings. Chores… pocket money… Saturday jobs… these routines and expectations grew as we matured and instilled a sense of responsibility in my sister and I. My parents were young and both worked full-time as self-employed business owners, we all chipped in to make our house run. We made our beds, we laid the table, we stacked the dishwasher and we ironed our own clothes.
From the age of 12 I was a babysitter and would be paid to look after my parents’ friends babies and toddlers whilst they went down the road for dinner. From the age of 13 I had a Saturday job working as a chamber maid, then a kitchen hand, then a waitress. I earned my own money. Each of these opportunities and experiences made me a responsible young person.
Becoming a teacher, becoming responsible for a class, a year group, a subject, a faculty, a school were natural steps in the level of responsibility I felt comfortable carrying on my shoulders.
The sense of responsibility felt the heaviest when things went wrong, when we had accidents and incidents where people were at risk. The responsibility of safeguarding a vulnerable community was the thing that weighed me down the most, the emotional fatigue from the constant emotional labour of holding a space for children who had been let down by their families, by society, by the system.
Leaders take responsibility, it is a decisive action. They don’t make excuses, they may make mistakes, but they make decisions that affect others and they carry that responsibility. The more senior you are, the more responsible you become, and you learn to sit with that constant gnawing feeling.
Watching the last 7 weeks unravel, I can only guess at the sense of responsibility that school staff are wrestling with. These days I am only responsible for myself. I feel much lighter as a consequence.
Responsibility was one of our 12 core school values that we embedded when I was a Headteacher – we encouraged our community to be responsible for themselves, for each other, for our environment. Exploring the different layers of responsibility we broke it down into sub-categories and scrutinised it as a shared value:
- Individual responsibility – our words, our actions and our behaviour as humans.
- Collective responsibility – an awareness that we impact others and are all cogs.
- Personal responsibility – keeping ourselves physically and emotionally safe.
- Professional – modelling what the adults were responsible for.
- Familial – being clear about we expected our parents/carers to be responsible for.
- Financial – learning how to manage our money.
- Moral – developing how to be responsible and how integrity.
- Social – holding each other to account for our impact on society.
- Environmental – being mindful and respectful of our impact on our world.
One way we did this was through our Global Citizenship lessons and our teaching of the Sustainable Development Goals. We made it clear to our young people that they will be the leaders of the future, global citizens with global human values.
Society and the world have changed a lot since my childhood and formative years at school. Lots of the opportunities to become responsible have been removed or have been restricted. I hope that this wake up call is an opportunity for us to refocus on bringing a sense of responsibility back to us as individuals and as communities as it needs to be at the core of the young people we shape who will enter the world of work as change makers of the future.
We need to take responsibility that it is our actions that impact our community and our world.