Leading by Example: Take Action and Model It for Students

example quoteI value the role we teachers play as models for our students both in reading and writing. I believe that we are better equipped to have deep conversations in conferences with students when we read a variety of texts they’re reading. Teachers who share and display what they’re currently reading find books fly off their shelves. I believe that we are more likely to empathize with the challenges student writers face when we write ourselves. Exemplars offer a glimpse of an end product for students to aspire to, however, teachers who share the struggle of the writing process find students are more likely to take risks and more capable of honing their craft when writing.

I believe we can also play a role in modelling curiosity, passion, and how we take action in response to what we have read and learned.

One of the commitments I made public this year in an earlier post was to embrace the real world by blurring the lines between inside and outside school. I’m always looking for authentic texts and tasks to engage students, to bring the world into the classroom. But I also want to bring our students out into the world, to act, to impact our world, to make a difference. This is the ultimate demonstration of insightful understanding: that students are compelled to act in some way to respond to what they have learned.

My thinking around this has been greatly informed by the work of Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels compiled in Comprehension and Collaboration (2015, new ed.) My team has used this book to guide our work with teachers around inquiry, comprehending text, and how students make their thinking visible. The Comprehension Continuum within this text outlines the spectrum of how we ask students to demonstrate their understanding of text, from answering literal questions to actively using knowledge. It serves as a ladder to higher order thinking and is a reflective tool to remind us of where we may spend most of our time.Comp Continuum

In my last post, Teaching the Headlines, I shared a variety of texts and ideas to explore the Syrian Refugee Crisis.  I wondered about the potential of these texts to engage students, make the world relevant, and launch an inquiry. In some ways, perhaps I too was on an inquiry journey. I gathered my resources (picture books, news articles, Humans of New York images and stories, novels) and I talked to others about what I’d learned, both to make sense of it but also to raise awareness. I had (still have) questions about the crisis: What is the difference between a refugee and a migrant? What would Canada do if these refugees were at our border? Why are we not responding as Canadians in a way that respects humanity and matches our value of honouring diversity? How might this ever get resolved? How do we benefit from hearing refugees’ stories? How is the Central American migration of children to the U.S. similar/different to the Syrian refugee crisis? What can I do?

In fact, it was in the midst of this phase of filling my background knowledge with texts, and grappling with big questions, that I came across the Ride for Refuge. This is an annual ride (or walk) where participants can choose a charity of their choice according to particular criteria: the displaced, vulnerable, and exploited.  I chose to support the Canadian Global Response, an organization that has a Syrian Refugee initiative as its focus for this ride. As soon as I saw the video promo, I knew it was for me! The combination of two of my passions, cycling and migration, was perfect.

Just like in the classroom where you can’t always plan for the direction students’ inquiries may take you, so too, I dove into the topic, gathered a variety of resources, asked questions, chose to take action, identified a project that I could commit to, and am still reflecting. I continue to follow the day to day coverage of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. And just like in class, it’s messy, it’s not linear, it’s not over. But I came across a way for me to take action and respond to what I had been learning. I identified my passions and found a way to respond. Perhaps at the beginning of the year, the inquiry is teacher-led and shared by the whole class. Then, as students develop their collaborative skills, invest in their inquiry toolkit, and build their background knowledge, students will also identify their passions and craft an inquiry they can pursue.  As Harvey and Daniels claim, you expand your understanding by taking action.

What happens when kids, and adults, get globally and locally engaged in socially conscious projects? They:

  • nurture empathy and value others
  • exercise global citizenship
  • grapple with complex issues that have no simple answers
  • learn that one step, one person can make a difference
  • raise awareness in their community
  • take responsibility and exhibit leadership skills
  • identify and explore an issue they’re passionate about
  • spend less time navel-gazing and focusing on their problems

Actively using what I had learned by participating in the Ride for Refuge was beneficial emotionally too. It makes you feel good to know you’re taking a step to making a difference. But it also invited many others to become involved by supporting the initiative monetarily. An unintended consequence of taking action as a global citizen is your circle of influence gets to know you better. Your world, and your heart, grows a little bit bigger.