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By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller and

Kristy Hollister is an elementary-school reading specialist in a small town in Pennsylvania. Recently she constructed bookmarks for all her second- through fourth-grade "reading club" members. The message she selected for the bookmarks was an equation that read: Opportunity = Responsibility.

When Kristy presented the bookmarks to her students, she explained to them about equations. She informed them that when an equals sign appears in the middle of an equation, whatever is on either side of that symbol has the same value. She also explained that since the value is the same on each side (6+2 = 8), then what comes before the equals sign (6+2) and what comes after the equals sign (8) could be changed around and written in the reverse order. If 6+2=8, then 8=6+2 is also true.

Kristy then applied the math logic to her bookmark equation. "Since Opportunity equals Responsibility," she told her students, "then it is also true that Responsibility equals Opportunity." Kristy gave them the following two examples.

Example I

Kristy's students had the OPPORTUNITY to take a book from her room whenever they liked. Their RESPONSIBILITY was to return the book as soon as they were finished with it. If they followed through with the RESPONSIBILITY to bring the book back, they earned the OPPORTUNITY to take another book out. If they chose to neglect the RESPONSIBILITY of bringing their book back, then they chose not to participate in the OPPORTUNITY of selecting a new book on the next trip to her room. Instead, they got to look through books while other students were selecting a book to borrow.

Example II

When students come to work with Kristy, they have an OPPORTUNITY to sit next to a friend. Their RESPONSIBILITY is to stay on task and refrain from engaging in side conversations. If students choose to implement the RESPONSIBILITY, then the OPPORTUNITY remains the same. If their RESPONSIBILITY drops, so does the OPPORTUNITY to sit by the person of their choice.

"I could tell there was a different feeling in the air when I implemented those two scenarios," Kristy said. "I didn't feel like I had to lecture them or enforce punishments. By simply giving them the consequence they asked for, I think both the students and I felt like I was showing them increased respect."

The bookmarks, which stayed in the books, served as a visible and silent reminder that Responsibility equals Opportunity in the "reading club" room. Kristy noticed she was able to cut down on the number of times she had to remind students to bring their books back. She effectively shifted that responsibility from her back to them through the use of the bookmarks. By staying calm and consistent as she implemented the consequences, Kristy experienced less stress and gained increased cooperation from students who were now seeing themselves as responsible for the opportunities they were earning.

By connecting opportunities to responsibilities and putting students in charge of how they handled the equation, Kristy helped her students experience the relationship between cause and effect. She helped them realize that when the responsibility is not accepted, the opportunity is temporarily lost. She also gave them abundant opportunities so they could demonstrate whether or not they were accepting the responsibility. Her efforts increased the chance that her students would learn that the nature of their choices affects the results which follow.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. Chick has also written Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit. Chick and Thomas are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. To obtain more information about how they can help you or your group meet your staff development needs, visit their websites today: or