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Change Your Classroom and You Might Change the World

Change the world

This is not about technology. This is about hope. This is about impact. And it’s about choice.

Over the past few months I’ve been hit multiple times with the same truth: our work as educators REALLY matters. I’ve said that before to people, and I’ve heard it in classes and presentations…but for some reason I didn’t put it all together until recently.

Do you remember watching those Coca-Cola commercials? The ones where one person did a small act of kindness and then it continued to spread throughout the day. Teaching is a lot like that, except the way we handle students in our classroom can blossom farther and wider than you may ever imagine.

Two recent events in my life made this so apparent. 

I received an email from a former student. He was reaching out to tell me about his college experience and what path he was headed down. I couldn’t help but get emotional as I read his story. He hadn’t been a “stand out” high school student, but he was always ready to be challenged in my class. And he didn’t back down from anything I threw at him. He recently read Adam Braun’s new book, “The Promise of a Pencil” (highly recommended!) and told me Adam’s story had validated his idea that a life based around service was more valuable than a life based around money.

He is at a great college and chose to intern at a non-profit instead of fight for a prestigious internship at a big Fortune 500 company. Is this a realistic path for every student? Probably not. But we need individuals who are ready to serve at a young age. He wrote about some different activities we had done in class like, “Project: Global Inform” and the “Flat Classroom Project”. Both had made him think outside the typical path. I realized what we do in our classrooms…can deeply effect our students and the world.

Students Changing the World Together

A school group that I co-sponsor called “FANS” recently presented to our school board. The two leaders of the club came right from lacrosse practice dressed in sweats (and a bit dirty) to an event where everyone else was dressed appropriately! They arrived a bit late, but were full of passion. As we stepped up to the podium to speak, I explained that this club “FANS” had a main purpose of cheering and supporting all school activities and athletics. FANS was actually an acronym for “Following Activities N’ Sports”. Four years ago students in my class and Steve Mogg’s class said the #1 thing they wanted to change about our school was the “culture”. We started the FANS club with eight members…and four years later we have almost 500 members.

The school board was so proud of what our students had accomplished. They spoke about other schools asking them about the club, how we had been featured in local publications, and the Huffington Post…and talked about their own children at our school and why FANS mission was so important to include every student. At the end of the presentation I realized we didn’t even mention their volunteering at Special Olympics events each year…but it didn’t matter, our students had shown adults that while the nation may focus on bullying — there is good going on at schools around the country and world. There are students going out there and supporting each other for no other reason than because they care. I can only imagine how they will change the world.

What Is Our Role As Educators?

I’ve learned so much from students over they years, but the most important lesson I’ve taken away is that “they want to matter”. Angela Maiers is so great at spreading this message, and so many other teachers, leaders, and educators have brought the “You Matter” mentality back into education.

Our role is to give students the opportunity to do work that matters. We need to give students choices and pathways that might not exist in our school yet. Here are five simple ways we can all change our classrooms so that students can change the world:

1.  Give assignments and projects that include choice

If we don’t give students choice than it’s difficult for them to break the traditional school barriers. Choice through inquiry-based assignments and projects is a real motivator and supercharge or “change-making” ideas.

2. Spend time listening to what they want to change

You can’t tell students they matter, and then not give them a say in the learning process. Each week make time to actually “talk” to your students about not only their lives but the school as well. What do they want to change?

3. Provide a forum for student-adult collaboration

Clubs are a great way for students and adults to work together. But break out of the traditional school “clubs” and make new clubs that have a purpose besides looking good on a transcript.

4. Don’t limit their ideas

I’ve done this too often, and I try to catch myself. Let students ideas speak for themselves. There needs to be a “Why” and a “How”…but don’t limit either with adult assumptions.

5. Share new stories

If you are only sharing stories in class of people following a traditional path, then students will think that’s all their is in terms of success. Share new stories of people like Adam Braun…and watch their minds run wild with possibilities.

As a teacher and an adult I need to be constantly reminded that what we do everyday matters to each individual student, the entire school, our communities, and the world. If you don’t teach with that in the back of your mind, you are limiting the kind of impact you and your students can have.

1 comment… add one

  • Thanks for the great pep talk. You make an excellent point, and an inspiring one as well. I suspect most teachers don’t have a clue as to how instrumental they are in shaping their students’ lives. I know this is true because I frequently hear from students I had 20-30 years ago in FIRST GRADE, and they nearly always recount something memorable they did (or I said) when they were my classroom. Every teacher makes a difference – one way or the other.

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