Covey's 7 Habits Applied to Course Design: Teaching as Delegation

In my nondirectional approach to teaching, I invite students to choose their own learning goals. Then I invite them to choose (from several options) which activities they want to achieve those goals. I am often met with apathy or malaise (or something else) when it comes time to do the actual activities. Students are much more comfortable talking about the activities than doing them.

I have fiddled with the amount of structure I provide, but am always faced with the issue of providing too much structure and thereby undermining the self-directing process.

Then this morning I had an idea while listening to the chapter in 7 Habits for Highly Effective People on the topic of delegation. This is where Covey talks about how to manage people without squashing their independence/autonomy. “Delegating,” Covey explains, “involves clear, up-front mutual understand and commitment in five areas.” These are:

·      Desired results

·      Guidelines

·      Resources

·      Accountability

·      Consequences

In the book, Covey gives the example of delegating to his son the task of keeping the lawn clean and healty. (It is worth mentioning that his son chooses this task on his own.) Within five days, the son has done nothing and the grass is brown and littered with garbage. Covey can't help but share his disappointment. In the end, Covey violates his contract with his son, which undermines the trust that delegation requires. 

I often find myself as did Covey with his son: I am disappointed in the lack of effort that students give on the goals they have chosen for themselves. This means that I do not trust them, and I become doubtful of their inner self-actualizing tendency. I think, "since they won't actualize my tendencies as a scholar, they are pathetic." Which isn't fair, of course.

But these five aspects for delegation allow me to examine more carefully the role that I play in effective nondirectional support. After all, students do identify goals that they wish they could achieve. Their difficulty is in mobilizing their resources and abilities to actualize these goals.

After looking at these five components of Delegation, I can say that I do a poor job each. I think my poor job is responsible for the less-than-stellar achievement of students in the classroom. (I do believe, however, that students learn a great deal of self-knowledge and self-acceptance, which is important. But I am regularly disappointed in the commitment to and quality of work that students give.) In what follows, I describe how each component can be interpreted in the context of a successful nondirectional classroom.


Desired Results: This means stating, at the outset of the semester, what the course goals are. This is more than “I will become more creative.” It will have to have an actionable component. Students will have to know what it feels like to be more creative so that they will know when it has occurred.

            I believe an entire class period could be devoted to each learning goal. Students could come up with examples of creativity in practice or outcome, and then use those examples to generate a definition of what they will be working towards.

            I do this to a certain degree, but did not spend enough time inviting students to participate. I gave students a rubric, and we did one activity using the rubric. But I’m not sure I or my students could have clarified what we wanted to have happen.

            (Perhaps students could submit their own list of desired results along with a short description of each.)


Guidelines: My classes had guidelines that were chosen by students, but the guidelines were minimal, which resulted in a lot of missed classes without consequences. The guidelines would have to be result-oriented, not obedience-oriented. This means that students can learn and grow without attending class, provided they have the guidelines.

            What might good guidelines look like? Complex tasks such as interpreting a graph or analyzing a picture must be broken down into basic activities in graduated complexity. This is difficult for me because I think intuitively, and not always linearly. It is difficult for most academics, because the tendency is to think that information/knowledge = understanding. But knowing what a thesis statement is (defining it) doesn’t mean understanding how to create one or recognizing one when you see it.

            For Critical Race Psychology, there are two basic guidelines:

1.     Accepted psychological understanding of ____.

2.     A critical race analysis of 1 (with at least 6 steps).

All along the way, there would have to be sample questions, sample answers, and a description along the way. 

            I need to start thinking through all of my course activities this way: give students a worksheet with lots of description, and have them complete those on their own and bring them into class for discussion. That way class time will have a focus and students will have explored the whole activity if they wanted to, but we can also focus on one related or semi-related topic, if that is where we go. All the while, there are clear overarching outcomes associated with the class.

            This step also means warning students of the possible failure routes they might take, such as forgetting to attend class; rushing through activities; applying little of themselves; no reflection.


Resources. I provide tons of written resources, since I have tons to share. But I suspect that few if any of these are explored at all. The best resources, I believe, are simple activities with lots of descriptions. Students don’t want to read about the topic. They want to do it. Resources should be practice-based, not information-based. This is tough, because I am not skilled in designing activities. My skill is in explaining what they mean. I have much room for growth here.


Accountability. I don’t much care for the “I have to do it cuz teacher said so” style of accountability. But I also don’t like the “I would just as soon do nothing” mentality, either. 

            The semester is easily organized around quarterly assessments. But upon what parameters will they be judged? It seems like the desired results would be the measuring stick. What if they were to list their quarterly goals in their desired results page? “By week 4, I will have ____,” and so on? Then they can compare their Personal Goals with what they have accomplished and give themselves a grade. I will do the same. This will be somewhat hard to accomplish in an online course, where students are not always available to meet for a conversation.


Consequences. Grades are the most obvious consequences. Learning/Failure to learn or feel prepared is the hidden consequence, but also the one that is biggest and most long-term. 

            I tend to eschew grades and grading, but maybe I do this prematurely. Students have a strong secondary motivation to achieve good marks or avoid bad marks. If they are invited to choose a goal that is achievable but somewhat difficult, then they will have practice in goal-orientation as well. They can set their plan at the beginning of the semester. In their plan they will state their desired result or results, describe where they will be in 4 weeks’, 8 weeks’, 12 weeks’, and 16 weeks’ time. These results will be measurable (even if only by way of rubric), and they will be used to evaluate progress throughout the semester. “Meeting expectations” = A. Exceeding Expectations “A+”. “Failing to Meet Expectations” means B. “I’ve done little or nothing to achieve my goals “C.” Submitting no self-report = F.


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