Teaching Responsible Decision Making Skills

Strategies for Your Classroom

If you’re ever wondering just how many decisions you make in a day, neuroscientists predict it’s a mind-blowing 35,000! I’ve been awake a mere 30 minutes and have already pondered the consequences of hitting the snooze button (again), hot tea vs. hot cider (cider won), if I deserved a break to scroll Instagram (after only 5 minutes of writing), what to wear (princess dress), when to work out (which ultimately led to my decision on when to shower), if I deserved another break to browse Pottery Barn’s bedding sale (I didn’t. Luckily, the sale runs until midnight) and currently I am trying to decide what to eat for breakfast as my tummy rumblings compete with the sound of my fingers tapping the keyboard. When I look at all the decisions listed above and the really minor ones I didn’t list, like petting my dog and opening the blinds, I can see how we reach the staggering statistic above. 

Be that teacher, the one with the lasting impact

Set up your EVERFI account to help empower your students to navigate healthy decisions in a modern digital world.

Someone once told me that life is just a series of decisions, one right after another, each determining the life that we lead. Sometimes the decisions are small and inconsequential, like my morning selections. However, sometimes the decisions are big. They have the power to shape us, such as which college to attend, and the degree to pursue, whom to marry or where to settle down. And the ripple effect that follows can feel like you’re riding a tidal wave. Regardless-big or small, every day these choices are written into our story. 

Given the amount of decisions one is asked to make throughout their lifetime and the potential gravity of the repercussions, I feel it’s our duty to teach the skill of responsible decision making to our students. Here are some ways to help your students become thoughtful, engaged and productive decision makers in 2020 and beyond.

  • Practice the decision-making model in your classroom, perhaps as an anchor chart. It can be applied to a plethora of relevant classroom dilemmas like solving a peer conflict and/or how to use time wisely during study hall. I’ve seen teachers apply it to group decisions such as where to take the end of the year field trip. If you aren’t familiar with the model I’ve included the steps below. 
    1. Identify the problem/conflict to be solved.
    2. Gather relevant information.
    3. Brainstorm possible solutions.
    4. Identify potential consequences.
    5. Make a choice.
    6. Take action!
  • Encourage listening skills as it relates to being open minded to other opinions. Let your students share their views on current events or relevant topics such as the impact of social media on our well-being. Many of the decisions we make are based on personal bias. In order to arrive at a fully educated decision, we have to be open to hearing and exploring all sides before cementing what our position is.  Here’s a great lesson for getting students talking and thinking critically about the decisions they make regarding social media, great for students old enough to have access to social media. 
  • Avoid rescuing. Decision-making grows stronger each time students have to navigate a tricky situation on their own–making a poor decision, facing the natural consequences and then reliving a similar situation, with new choices and lessons gathered from the first unsuccessful experience is possibly the most lasting way to learn this skill.
  • Promote mindfulness. A rushed decision is rarely a good one. Teachers and parents won’t always be around to remind kids to slow down and think. Giving them a foundation of mindful thinking will set them up for success when they need to filter out the noise, reflect on the situation at hand and make the wisest choice. Here’s a lesson plan and activity guide to lay a foundation of mindfulness with your younger students. 
  • Make it fun! One of the ways I incorporate decision making skills into my therapy sessions is playing a few rounds of “Would You Rather?”. Use one of the class brain breaks to ask your students if they’d rather forgo their iPad for a month or forgo junk food? Explore the ocean or outer space? Always have to tell the truth or always have to lie? Raise a monkey or an elephant? Get creative. Allow the class to share their answers and give reasoning for why they picked a certain one. Point out the potential consequences and see if that changes their response. 

Learning to make their own choices helps children be more independent, responsible, and confident. It gives them a sense of control over their lives, reducing anxiety and promoting resilience. Furthermore, it encourages self-exploration and helps them to solidify their values. As educators, you have the power to make those 35,000 decisions easier for them to navigate and conquer. And remember, it’s okay to let them make a few bad decisions. That’s how they gain experience to make better ones. (Like choosing tea over cider for breakfast—the sugar crash was NOT worth it).

Be that teacher, the one with the lasting impact

Set up your EVERFI account to help empower your students to navigate healthy decisions in a modern world.


Brittany Williamson is a Mental Health Counselor at Florida Children’s Institute based in Jacksonville, Florida. She works closely with children and their families taking a Cognitive-Behavioral approach and is passionate about building emotional intelligence and teaching coping skills that will promote resilience throughout her client’s lives. She is also a certified yoga instructor who uses that knowledge to treat anxiety and depression and to model self-care within her practice. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, staying active, traveling, and spending time with her family and beloved yellow Lab, Reagan.