We are already doing an outstanding job of teaching our students how to learn effectively. We are strengthening skills, fostering a sense of curiosity, and modeling how to be lifelong learners. But to create the most well-rounded students possible, we also need to teach students to be active citizens in their communities.
Most of us were never taught specifically how to be engaged members of our communities. We had to figure it out on our own. Unfortunately, too many adults still haven't learned, and they remain uninvolved and disconnected from what's going on around them. Perhaps if we show them how, our students will understand that they can be positive influences in their communities.
Start by encouraging students to tackle an issue inside the school building. For example, students may feel it's time for their school to deal head on with the issue of bullying. Leading a class or extracurricular club through a discussion about how best to enact specific changes will be an important exercise.
Walk students through scheduling a meeting with the school administration to discuss ideas and request their support. The meeting preparation, creation of a multimedia presentation, practicing of delivery techniques, and actual presentation will be useful for their development and could prove to be effective for solving the problem they have identified.
There is likely a districtwide issue about which students feel passionately. Maybe students feel that their district should begin offering healthier lunch options. Guide them through the process of organizing an argument via investigation and research. Help them identify the proper channels for voicing their concerns. They could meet with district-level officials or present their case at a school board meeting. Counsel them if they choose to circulate a petition among the student body. Demonstrating to your students that there are always appropriate and effective ways of reaching the people in power and guiding them through doing it effectively will have a lasting effect.
Thinking bigger, your group may be concerned about a community-wide issue. If you can lead discussions effectively to spark motivation, you will show students that volunteering in their local community can improve the lives of others. Such a project will also give them an understanding of the broad range of services and supports available in the local community.
Take students to city council meetings, encourage them to write to state representatives, and discuss issues raised in the next local elections. You can even expose your students to national or international opportunities in which they can get involved. Discussing current events can inspire students to effect change.
When we involve our students in projects like these, we improve their skills in reading, writing, research, and critical thinking; we challenge them to lead; and we show them how to direct their energy and talent toward making a positive difference.
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