Last month, I talked about how teachers can encourage their students to be positive influences in their local communities, but what can teachers do to model this behavior for their students? As teachers, we have a unique opportunity that goes beyond the instruction of content in a classroom: we can strengthen our communities by improving the relationship between members of the community and our schools. By personally contributing in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools, by teaching our students to be active citizens, and by bringing community members into the school to be a part of the educational experience, teachers can foster the development of mutually enriching experiences and create a positive, supportive environment for all students.
Students already know their teachers serve more than purely academic purposes. Young people understand that teachers serve as mentors, that we listen, and that we care. Neighbors to the school don't witness these teacher-student interactions; they don't see the smiles, hear the words of encouragement, or observe the patience of the teachers; but when they see teachers out in the community doing positive things, they are more likely to support teachers and the school, to cultivate a more active relationship with the school, and to trust and respect educators and members of the school community. In addition, while striving to improve the local community, teachers are serving as role models for their students.
So, how can you be a more engaged community member? Volunteer for local events, support local nonprofit organizations, shop at the local farmer's market, support local businesses, attend performances of local musicians, or support local artists and theaters, just to name a few. Be a positive presence wherever you are, because whether or not you are in the classroom, you are still a teacher.
It's also important to invite members of the community into the classroom. Ask people to share their expertise or lend a hand with special class projects. For example, find a carpenter to help your class build a raised-bed garden and bring in a community gardener to assist your class in the planning and planting. Invite representatives of local nonprofit organizations or charity groups to discuss their causes with your students. Recruit volunteers to assist in a large class project designed to raise awareness about a certain homegrown issue important to students.
It's important to think about what you can contribute to building a whole child community. So much good can be accomplished when everyone works together to create stronger, more supportive environments.
How are you working to build a stronger
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Brad Kuntz teaches Spanish and environmental leadership at Gladstone High School in Gladstone, Ore., and he is a 2011 winner of ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator Award.
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