It’s beyond sad that as a nation and around the world, we don’t look forward to the next year, we fear what comes next.
When I was a kid, I remember looking forward to the new year. We saw it as a new beginning—a chance to right wrongs and improve ourselves. But in today’s climate, too many people see it only as more of the same.
But have no fear, there is hope! The hope comes from our young people, who are not willing to accept the status quo. Working with 12-13 year-olds every day, I realize that—contrary to popular opinion—these kids aren’t the problem with society. They are the solution.
Every day, I see new reasons for optimism—new reasons to think that my students are the ones who will save the world. And, here’s the best part, there is nothing about my students that makes them more special than anyone else. If they can do it, yours can too!
1. My students have a culture of kindness
This may seem obvious, but stop and think: what have you done to promote this?
I spent more time at the beginning of this year working with students on being kind and compassionate. We spent time talking about how to respectfully disagree. We talked about how smiling and saying hello can go a lot farther than one might think. Being inclusive instead of exclusive makes a huge difference in the lives of students receiving those greetings as well as the ones giving them.
I’ve had my 7th-graders work with “accountability buddies” and have been amazed. Students chose a person they are not friends with to be their buddy for a month. They began class with conversations. They talked about their academic, behavioral, and personal goals. They offered support when needed and redirection when warranted. And when I mentioned to a group that we would be switching up buddies in the next few weeks, it was met with sadness because some of these buddies are now friends—friendships that wouldn’t have happened without a culture of kindness.
2. My students have 21st Century Skills
I went to school in the ’80s and ’90s. I had some great teachers in my life, but lessons and assessments were pretty standard. I took a lot of notes and then spit out that information on an end-of-unit test.
We are nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Students of today need a whole different set of skills than I did growing up. There are a lot of different lists that talk about 21st-century skills, but there are some that come up over and over again.
- Collaboration. If we hope to make things better, we need to collaborate. Through facilitating a culture of kindness, my students have this done.
- Creativity. We can’t limit ourselves to old ideas. My students were recently looking at sustainable cities and a group made the decision that all new buildings should be built with green roofs that would allow for rooftop gardening to help supply food for the community. Creativity? Check!
- Critical Thinking. We can’t look at an issue from one perspective and think we understand it. We need to try to understand it from two, three, or a dozen points of view. Only when we think about how everyone, every stakeholder, is impacted positively or negatively can we make a decision that is best. Yep, these kids are critical thinkers.
- Problem Solving. Problem Solving? That’s all we’re doing this year. Rather than telling students the answers, they need to find their own. I’m not going to ask what the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo is because they can Google that. (It’s Kinshasa. —ed.) I am going to show them scenes of child labor—kids younger than 7 working in a cobalt mine so that my students can have cell phone batteries. I introduce the problem, they need to solve it. And they tried to. They wrote business letters to companies, media, and politicians to persuade them to help stop this issue. And what’s shocking? Companies responded! Apple, Dell, and others wrote back to my students to tell them what their organization was already doing about this issue, or what they planned to do. My students saw the problem and found ways to if not solve it, at least make it better.
As we think about the issues facing the nation and the planet, these skills are in greater demand than memorization of facts, dates, and locations.
These kids are prepared for the future, and those skills are going to help them as they save the world.
3. My students are Global Goal Ambassadors
In 2015, the United Nations introduced the world to the Global Goals or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are 17 goals that, if achieved by the year 2030, would eliminate “extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change.”
This year, each of my students adopted a goal for themselves. They can tell you what problems made that goal necessary, what targets need to be reached by 2030, and what has been done so far. But that is just the beginning.
As one of the videos we watched in class to introduce the Global Goals said, “we need to make these goals famous,” and that’s just what my students are doing. I’ve gotten my students to tell their families about the Global Goals. They have posted on social media about the Global Goals. They are making the goals famous!
But most importantly, they are taking action to support the Global Goals. My students have done work for Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation by having a Walk for Water. Over the past four years, they have raised nearly $35,000 to dig wells and sanitary latrines at schools in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Central America. As great as this is, they have become Water Warriors spreading the word of the global water crisis to family, friends, and anyone else who will listen to them.
Taking Action doesn’t just mean raising money, however. This year, my students are developing action projects to go with their Global Goal. For some of them, this means inventing or innovating something to help achieve that goal. For others, it means campaigning on behalf of the goal. Getting students to use their voice and social media for good is incredibly empowering for both students and their teachers!
I don’t know that anything my students do in 2018 will be the catalyst to truly changing the world, but it moves us in the right direction. Having the culture of kindness is something that our current leaders could benefit from. Collaboration and problem-solving are the only chances we have to fix the issues that face us. Making students aware of the Global Goals shows them that the world has issues, but solutions are also there.
What are your students going to do to save the world? Let me know on Twitter – @cheffernan75 or in the #worldgeochat hashtag!
Chris is one of our #worldgeochat bloggers. #worldgeochat is a professional learning network at its finest—a community of learners who work with each other and for each other. Join us each Tuesday night at 9 Eastern/8 Central—click here for a list of upcoming topics!