While I would LOVE for everyone to agree with me all the time I think that it is important as teachers that we remain neutral. This serves two purposes. The first being that just because we believe in something doesn't mean that we should be able to force our opinions on our students. The second is that if we are always sharing our opinions it doesn't give students the chance to develop their own passions which is really what our classrooms are all about. Through these seven topics students can be encouraged to think for themselves and find items that they are passionate about.
In today's world it is unfortunate that you can't believe everything you read. It is vital that we teach our students to examine a source, and check multiple sources, before they form an opinion. I for one used to have resources that I trusted to always tell me the truth, but these days until I am able to verify a fact amongst several trusted resources I am hesitant to believe it, and even more so to share it.
Talk to your students about reliable resources, fact checking, and going straight to the source. A fun way to start off a lesson on this is to play a classic game of telephone with a silly phrase. After completing the game talk to your students about how the phrase changed as it was passed through the group. Explain that this is what happens to facts as passed through a community as well.
Being an Active Participant in Your Community
It is vital to think local when it comes to being an active citizen. Encourage students to think about community matters that matter to them. When they decide what they are passionate about it is easier to find ways to get involved.
For example, I am passionate about reading. I love to read. I love to talk to others about reading. I believe that it is very important for everyone to have access to quality books. In order to spread my passion I volunteer at a local organization that sends books into prisons at the request of those who are incarcerated. This matches my passion and allows me to be truly interested in the processes of helping an underserved population.
Similarly I encourage students to think about topics that they are passionate about. Their lists often include animals, parks, and friends. We then work together to find an organization or start a project that matches their interests. These passion projects become deeply meaningful and what I hope will be lifelong interests.
Empathy is quite possibly one of the most important things that a student can learn all while being one of the hardest things to teach. I firmly believe that when it comes to teaching empathy you must start with kindness. General kindness certainly makes the world a better place, but very specific kindness can make a world of difference.
Using kindness as a jumping off point, I love to use literature and common experiences to further encourage students to empathize with others' situations. One of my absolute favorite ways to practice empathy is within a historical context. Dice simulations allow students to put themselves in the shoes of those undergoing a historical event and then write about it. The conversations that I have had with students following these shared experiences is always eye opening.
How the Government Works
It is always shocking to me when talking to people how little they know about how our government actually works. I am not claiming to be any kind of expert, but I try to stay informed as to changes within the government and how it affects my community.
Within our classrooms our students have the opportunity to learn about our government from local infrastructure to state elections to the latest bill gone through Congress. By knowing how our government works students are able to take a more active role in their communities.
A great access point for learning about the government is to go through the process of writing your own bill or rule. This entails students researching who their local leaders are and writing them a letter about why their bill is important which is a great way to learn more about their local government.
I have also invited local leaders to come speak to our students and have never been turned down. The mayor or city council members are great visitors and really stretch our students' minds.
Staying Informed About Current Events
I remember when I was in school we had a weekly assignment to bring in a current event that we thought was important to our community or country and to present it to the class. I have not heard too much about current events in elementary classrooms lately, but I think they should make a come back!
This is not to say that I think 9 year olds should be graphically informed on international affairs of a more mature nature, but rather that they should stay informed on local issues. Why would we not talk to our students about the proposal for a new recycling program within the community, a park that has been suggested, or the litter problem along the roads by your school.
If students don't know that there are issues in their community how can they begin to problem solve and think about solutions?
Being a Leader
So often we ask our students to fall in line and then at the same time to be a leader, but aren't the two counterproductive?
When we teach our students, and follow our own advice, to stay informed and be a leader in matters that we are passionate about we all win. The world needs more passionate leaders that have the skills to organize and be active in their communities.
Can you imagine how amazing our communities would be if we got more people involved? I think about the clean up days at the local creek where seven of us turn out to clean up the area. I would just about fall over if more than the usual people showed up.
This doesn't mean that everyone should be involved in everything, but every student should be able to find something that they are passionate about to become a leader in.
Easy leadership opportunities within the school could be:
Mentoring a younger student
Cleaning up the playground
Organizing a fundraiser for a local organization
Forming a club
Taking Responsibility for Your ActionsIsn't this where is really all begins? Before we can be an active force in our communities we have to take personal responsibility for ourselves. Do not allow students to squirm their way out of taking responsibility for themselves, but instead give them the opportunity to own their decisions.
This might mean that sometimes students fail, and that is okay. It also means that students will have the chance to succeed on their own and own their successes, because taking responsibility means accepting your wins and losses.
When students become responsible for themselves and don't always look to an adult to make decisions they are able to learn life lessons that will serve them greatly. Isn't this what we want?