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My Personal Responsibility Lesson For This Friday


Yesterday, I posted about how I was thinking of using part of President Obama’s commencement speech for a lesson on not blaming others.

Since that time, I’ve developed a simple hand-out that some of my colleagues and I are going to use this Friday. It’s a half-day, and all of our classes are much shorter.

You can download the sheet here.

Here is what it says:


Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes, but for your failures as well.

The truth is, no matter how hard you work, you won’t necessarily ace every class or succeed in every job. There will be times when you screw up, when you hurt the people you love, when you stray from your most deeply held values.

And when that happens, it’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame. Your professor was too hard; your boss was a jerk; the coach was playing favorites; your friend just didn’t understand.

— President Barack Obama

1) Please think about times when you have blamed someone else for your mistake. Write about at least one time here:

2) Please think about times when you have taken responsibility for your mistakes. Write about at least one time here:

3) Next time you feel like blaming someone, what could you do instead? What could help you remember to do this?

I’m planning on beginning the short lesson by explaining that when things don’t go well for us, we can easily try to blame it on someone else. I’ll then say that President Obama spoke at a high school graduation ceremony earlier this week, and he commented on that tendency.

I’ll put the quote under the document camera, and then read it.

Next, I’ll review each question, and quickly give my own answer to each one as a model.

Then, I’ll pass out the sheets and ask students to answer each question (I may need to encourage them with a few ideas/suggestions). After a few minutes, I’ll ask them to share their responses verbally with a partner. While that’s going on, I’ll circulate and look for particularly insightful answers, and tell those students that I’ll be calling on them to share what they wrote with the entire class in a few minutes.

After partners are done sharing, I’ll call on those particular students, and then ask if others would like to tell the class what they wrote.

With a quick wrap-up, we should be done.

Any suggestions on how to make it better are welcome.

I’ll write about how it goes…

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Very nice extract – I think this could turn into quite a useful learning experience. But I know that whenever I get asked these sorts of questions myself I can never think of any good examples … until after the lesson …

    So it might also be interesting to do this activity in two parts – do the introduction in one week, and then ask the students to think about their responses before the next lesson.

  2. How about a reflection on what a person gains by accepting blame and responsibility for their own mistakes, otherwise, they might only see this as a negative and not a positive, kind of “What’s in it for me?” if I accept responsibility for my actions.

  3. Great idea. Personal responsibility is something that we need to face throughout life, even as teachers. I like how it connects with being life-long learners, being honest with ourselves, becoming compassionate people, learning leadership skills, encouraging others, emotional health and integrity. While some kids don’t need development in these areas I’m learning that many do.

  4. Used the lesson from your book many times in my Transition Room. Thought of it this AM listening to this story. Too many issues perhaps – immigration, border control, police…… Don’t know the guys track record, but appreciated taking responsibility for his decisions.

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