It takes all of us working together every day to create a country that is hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted. Educators know they play a uniquely catalytic role in the lives of learners. Children learn who they are and observe how people interact based on the experiences that play out in their home environments and in their classrooms and schools every day. We know when these conversations inspire fear or friction in children (see The Election is Over But for Teachers Hard Conversations are Just Beginning in Education Week Teacher) the child and their capacity to learn suffer significantly.
Every classroom holds the potential to foster empathy, understanding, hope, appreciation and so much more. Classrooms often become the primary environments where children formulate perceptions about how the world works. Classrooms provide the developmental space where learners begin to discern whether the world is a place in which:
It is safe to be different and everyone matters
Respect is nonnegotiable
Kindness is the primary currency
Hope is nurtured and flourishes
Individuals are known and appreciated for their unique strengths
Classroom experiences that create positive environments and foster hopeful perceptions benefit learners while in school and beyond–across their lifetimes. But it doesn’t stop with the individual. Living these strengths in the classroom begins a ripple effect that can turn into a tidal force, positively impacting all facets of life, from the local to the national level, resulting in a more positive future for everyone.
That may sound daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Big change can start with smart, seemingly small-scale, everyday choices. We need to be asking ourselves if we are choosing to operate and behave in a way that makes the world more hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted or less so. Here’s something educators can do to challenge themselves and their students. Start with a series of simple but profoundly important questions every day for a week, and challenge your students to really ponder their responses. Watch what happens. You will be amazed.
Are We Choosing Acceptance?
Discuss some of the elements involved in accepting others (listening, respecting, trying new ideas). Divide students into groups of five or six and ask them to complete the “Looking From Different Angles” guide in which they will reflect and record a useful strategy to be open to someone different from them. Invite students to share their thinking and challenge them to consider what would happen if they applied these strategies in the classroom and in their lives.
Are We Choosing Respect?
Expand students’ capacity to listen to and integrate others’ perspectives with the “Different Strokes” guide. Students are invited to identify a question or a decision they are currently considering and then gather input from three people whom they might not normally seek out. After capturing the ideas of others, they reflect and discuss how these ideas are different, similar and most importantly, can inform their own thinking by adding a more complete picture of the situation. This activity can be a personal reflection or embedded in a content area. e.g. when making project decisions.
Are We Choosing Kindness?
Create a “Kindness Day” when students will be encouraged to look for ways to practice random acts of kindness throughout the day. Start the day by brainstorming with students a short list of the ways they can be kind to one another. Hand out 3 x 5 “kindness cards” to every student and ask them to fill one out each time they spot someone showing kindness to another. At the end of the day these can be collected and shared with the whole class in a “Kindness Day” celebration, possibly resulting in a permanent creative display of the kindness cards in the classroom. Imagine how powerful this is when a whole school engages at once!
Are We Choosing Hope?
Discuss with students the concepts of “the glass is half-full” vs. “the glass is half empty.” Ask them to consider how each viewpoint might affect their schoolwork or friendships. Ask students to draw a simple picture of a glass and then “fill” the glass with statements about what has gone right in their day or week. It doesn’t matter how simple the event is, help your students claim it as a positive in their lives. Ask students to consider, based on their glass what they can expect tomorrow, next week, next month.
Are We Choosing Appreciation?
This is the most simple of the sample ideas but when practiced regularly, might be the most powerful. Before students arrive, find 2 minutes to review your class roster. Look at each name and as you do find one word that represents a strength for each student. Take another moment to simply appreciate that each students’ strength. It only takes seconds, but this simple act can change the way you see and relate to students and even change how they think of themselves. Surprising as it sounds, two minutes can be the beginning of a positive transformation.
For more than two decades Mayerson Academy has been deeply committed to inspiring successful outcomes for learners of all ages through creative, customized learning experiences. The activities highlighted here are drawn from our Thriving Learning Communities curriculum that applies the science of character strengths to the practice of teaching and learning.