3 Simple Ways to Force Student Ownership

I love yogurt. Especially the varieties that have a lid full of stuff to dump in and mix around. The healthy crunch that almonds or granola or M&Ms provide…so good.

Recently, I was shopping for said yogurts as the clerk was restocking the very same yogurts. I thought he would yield to me as we reached simultaneously, and he did, but not without releasing a nose full of annoyed and affronted air.

As I filled my arms, I thought of tons of stuff I wouldn’t end up saying, which included, “I’m sorry that my shopping is getting in the way of your shelving, but did you realize you wouldn’t have anything to shelve without customers?”

In other words, grocery store workers are there for the shoppers, not the other way around.

Funny, but a lot of teachers have this confused as well. I know I used to be. 

Many teachers don’t understand why students don’t take ownership of their learning or their education. Perhaps it’s because teachers act as if students have to earn the knowledge educators are charged with placing on the low shelves for their children.

Or maybe it’s because many teachers spend so much time creating boundaries and erecting walls with rules that, in many cases, require students to bow at their feet simply to enter the classroom.

Hate to tell you, teachers (no I don’t, I love it), but students aren’t here for us, we’re here for them. If it weren’t for the children, we would be out of a job.

At long last, here are three ways to force students to take ownership of their education:


1. Call It “Our Room,” Not “My Room.”

And beyond that, treat it as though it is your student’s room as much as yours. Because it is. (And, by the way, if another teacher uses your room at some point during the day, it’s their room as well. Make shelf space, desk space, and do whatever else you can to make them comfortable. I mean, c’mon, get over yourself. It’s not YOUR room).

This doesn’t mean that students gain access to your personal belongings, your desk, or even your supplies. They can respect your things and space.

But you must do the same. Don’t go digging through your students’ stuff without their permission. Ask politely if they mind if you move their books to the counter to make more room.

Once they feel like the classroom is as much theirs as it is yours, they will treat it as such and take ownership of its care.


2. Respect Their Physical Needs

Look folks, if a kid asks to go to the bathroom, let them go. Do you really want to say to a parent, “I know Richard will be made fun of for the rest of his life for pooping his pants in my class, but we were about to go over the homework”? Err on the side of humane, teachers. Please.

Now, if they are going to miss something fun or something that you think the student will really be upset about missing, it’s certainly appropriate to ask them if they could wait a couple minutes because “you’re going to want to see this.” But the fact that you “started the lesson” is no reason to cause your students physical discomfort.

(Chew on this:  if you think all those kids who are “going to the bathroom” are really just taking a walk, you’re probably right. But what does that say about what’s going on in your classroom?)

Additionally, let them get up to sharpen their pencil or grab a tissue without asking. This doesn’t mean they can terrorize everybody between the trash can and their seat, but sometimes a little stroll across the room is just what the doctor ordered.

Some students like to stand at their desk instead of sit. Why not let them? As long as they aren’t bothering other students, what’s the issue?

Trust me, it doesn’t bother you. You’re an adult, remember? You can handle it. And giving your students ownership of their bodies will encourage them to take ownership in other areas.


Please share this article with a teacher colleague or a parent friend of yours. Or ten.


3. Don’t Play the Adult Card

I drink coffee in class all the time. All day. All year. Students would always say, “Why can’t we have drinks in class?” and I would respond “become a teacher someday and you can have a latte in your classroom.”

That’s what I was referring to in the last paragraph of the previous section. Often times, we play the adult card when we teachers have something to gain.

I snack throughout the day as well because I get hungry. I’m a grown man. These kids get hungry as well. They’re children.

I know this is all subject to school rules, but why not allow your students some of the same creature comforts you desire for yourself?

Again, students should clean up after themselves, and they don’t need a dozen donuts. We should encourage them to make good choices. And if they already have a sense of ownership in the classroom, your students just might lead the charge on classroom sanitation for you.

Some Final Thoughts

There are always growing pains when encouraging your students to take ownership of their classroom environment. If they are not used to some of the freedom you are offering, they will try to take advantage of it. It’s inevitable. Don’t let this be an excuse to drop the iron fist on them. Revel in the notion that you are doing the right thing, teaching kids with respect, and encouraging them to take ownership of their lives and their education.

What Do You Think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you allow and encourage students to take ownership of their education and their school day? Or do you think this is a terrible idea? Mr. Middlesworth wants to hear from you! Sound off below!!

Further Reading on Ownership

Here’s an article by the fantastic Ira Socol about the user experience (UX) of children in the school setting. Must read.


I’m just a regular old teacher. No cape, no eye patch. I have no synonyms for innovation but I do want to do my job as best as I can.

Teach Like a Teacher

Brace yourself: My favorite teacher of all time was not a pirate.

Nor was he a champion or ninja or hacker.

He taught social studies, and he taught me about the laws of the United States of America. The curriculum was straightforward: Supreme Court cases whose decisions had a significant effect on the laws of the US.

The pedagogy was simple as well: present the case, explain the existing laws and constitutional significance, ask what we thought.

Then he listened.

I know he listened because he made everybody feel good about their responses and how they analyzed the situation. Nobody hesitated to share in “You and the Law,” because Minge (short for Mr. Mingeone, rhymes with hinge) always supported his students’ opinions. Always made us feel like we had made an excellent point.

Then with one comment, one point, one query, he would cause us to question our most fundamental beliefs. It was incredible.

I’m no Minge (I don’t even teach social studies), but that style informs my pedagogy to this day. It wasn’t about word walls or tickets in or tickets out or strategies or best practices or assessment anchors.

It was about getting to know his students and letting his students get to know him. In short, one-word short, in fact, it was about respect.

And that’s what Teach Like a Teacher is all about: respect. Teachers respecting their students. Teachers respecting each other. And yes, teachers respecting themselves.

I always thought I was a good teacher. Students like to be in my class. Some would choose to talk to me when they could be doing other things. I was even nominated for Who’s Who in American Education a few times back in the late 90s and early 2000s.

But now I’m judged by whether or not I posted the essential question for the lesson. Or if my students show growth on a standardized test they likely don’t care about. Or if one of my students yawns while an administrator is in my room for a 5×5 observation.

I used to feel good about what I did. Now I feel terrible. I feel guilty if I’m not planning or grading until the sun goes down. I feel like a failure if I’m not drilling down all summer to find the specific deficiencies in my students’ collective test scores.

Correct that. I felt terrible. I felt guilty. I felt like a failure.

From this moment forward, I’m going to feel great about working with kids, getting to know them, letting them get to know me, and showing them that I love each and every one of them just the way they are.

I’m going to delight in one simple result: allowing students to leave my classroom feeling better about themselves than they did when they walked in. And, hopefully, teach them a little something along the way.

That’s respectThat’s what Teach Like a Teacher is all about. Nobody needs a book to give them the 17 steps to being respectful. This isn’t a revolutionary idea. You don’t need to hack anything or innovate anything either. 

No in-service necessary either.

And if you need words of encouragement, a laugh, or a spritz of motivation, Mr Middlesworth is here for you at Teach Like a Teacher.


I’m just a regular old teacher. No cape, no eye patch. I have no synonyms for innovation but I do want to do my job as best as I can.