Guest Blogger: Aiesha White is a 5th and 6th grade teacher at Westwood School, a Communications and Community Engagement Consultant for Strong Cincinnati, and a life-long Madisonville resident with strong family roots and deep passion for her community and neighbors.

“What kind of person do you hope to be when you grow up? How will you get there? Is that similar to the type of person you are now?”

These are some of the questions I asked my incoming 5th-grade students when they entered my classroom last week. As teachers, we always want our students to succeed academically, but we also hope to help them become the people they dream of being. We craft lessons to excite their creativity and instill a love of learning so intense that kids cannot wait to go to school every day. There is no greater feeling than the sense of happiness that comes from witnessing a student realize that his high energy is just a manifestation of zest or hearing a shy student get praised for her prudence during a team building activity. So, this school year, I aim to help students become their dream selves with the help of character strengths. Each student will explore what it takes to become a leader, analyze what having strong character looks like, and discover the true meaning of teamwork by acknowledging and leveraging their innate talents.

When I started in education, more than anything else, I wanted to start my students on a path toward establishing, leading and sustaining a better world. Throughout my years in the classroom, I have met hundreds of kids who persevere in the face of challenges. I have taught students who find the strength to brighten others’ days with humor when they are facing their darkest days at home. I have been stunned by students’ innovative and creative thinking as they present concepts for their class projects. These experiences taught me that my students are already laying the groundwork for the goals I wanted to accomplish and all I had to do was help them see their immense potential and teach them how to leverage their strengths.

I know that preparing students for a changing and challenging world is one of my most important roles as an educator. So, instead of setting new goals for this school year, I will begin the year with “truths.” These truths will guide the way I approach my role as an educator and the way I facilitate discussion about strengths.

Truth #1: Students, our future leaders, are already powerful and talented. Our role as educators is simply to help them realize their strengths. As educators, mentors and role models, it is our responsibility to take charge of teachable moments and encourage students to appreciate their unique talents. We can teach students how to navigate hardship by leaning on those strengths.

Truth #2: Promoting social intelligence at an early age will support more connected communities for a better future. In an increasingly diverse world, it is important to encourage a respectful and healthy exploration of cultures. Giving young people a head start in how to understand others’ emotions and respond appropriately will set them up for success, enabling them to build deeper relationships for the rest of their lives.

Truth #3: A sense of meaning opens an endless number of possibilities. It may seem unreasonable to expect 5th graders to seek out the higher purpose in their work, but it is simpler than it sounds. Providing students with the appropriate tools to give their actions and emotions direction can help guide them during challenging decisions and open new opportunities. For example, students can uncover the power their voice through a well-crafted current events research project or when given the opportunity to express their emotions symbolically through spoken word.

Truth #4: Curiosity is essential. Curiosity is something that we often suppress as adults. However, it is one of the many ways we can teach our future leaders to become better versions of themselves. Today’s students will see and live out experiences we have only witnessed in science fiction films. As a result, they will need to utilize their strength of curiosity and embrace a love of learning at levels that we have yet to reach.

I am looking forward to another year of learning from the next generation of change makers and encouraging the next group of talented and inspiring students to explore their strengths.