At CharacterStrong, we have weekly meetings with our team where we turn off all distractions and “get out of the work so that we can look AT the work.” This perspective is critical to productivity and success; if we don’t observe and self-reflect at the 10,000 foot view, we won’t be nearly as effective doing the ground level work.
As we enter summer, when many schools and educators have the chance to take their first big metaphorical breath, we have the beautiful opportunity to observe our work from outside of it. This reflective process can be aided with some pleasantly big questions like: What is the function of schools in today’s culture? What are we, as educators, responsible to teach young people in our current world? What is missing from our systems or our curriculum and how do we effectively fill the gaps?
We sat down with 3 incredible students from diverse backgrounds and schools around Texas who became friends through their shared passion and responsibilities as officers for the Texas Association of Student Councils (TASC). They gave their first-person account of what they believe is missing (or what they want more of) in their current experience in school today. Here are their reflections:
1. Choice-Based Learning
2. Mental Toughness and Wellness
Their personal identification of the gaps gives us an opportunity to reflect, from a 10,000 foot view this summer, on how we can work to fill those gaps in the coming year for the students we serve.
What do you do in your classroom to give students autonomy and ownership? One of our favorite quotes at CharacterStrong is Dale Carnegie’s classic, “People support a world they helped create!” - a profound reminder that we feel most invested in the things we help shape and not the things that get delivered at or to us. Here are some fun ways to promote Choice-Based Learning:
Provide various note taking strategies for students who thrive with different styles. Team Notetaking is one of our favorites where you provide prompts in an open book and people move around the room and contribute ideas in other people’s notebook. You can use Google Docs for shared note taking where students can organically ask questions and have them answered by peers.
Create a few classroom teams that stick together throughout a semester or year. Each month, have that team design a lesson plan (or plans) to teach something specific.
Offer flexible seating in the classroom to increase movement, comfort, and engagement.
Mental Toughness and Wellness
In a society that is more anxious and stressed out than ever, we need to cultivate those critical social-emotional skills that help us regulate and relax. We have to prepare our brains for big challenges (resilience) and have tools in our toolbox to rejuvenate and recover (wellness). How do you cultivate mental strength in your class while making sure people know that it’s, “okay to not be okay”?
Angela Duckworth describes something she calls the “Hard Thing Rule” that encourages everyone in her family to pick something hard for themselves to pursue through consistent, deliberate practice. Do students in your room self-select into a “hard thing” in your room? Are there guidelines for practice? Do you have individual and group accountability?
There are up and down patterns emotionally in schools each day, week, and over the course of a year. Poll your class and see when they feel most drained, stressed, or overwhelmed each day, week, and over the course of the year. Then, be intentional about giving them brain breaks or mindful moments during those times.
What kinds of opportunities or outlets do you have for students to share their emotional state? Do they have a physical check in system so you can see where they are at? Do you utilize a Temperature Check so that you know when they aren’t okay and can provide a comforting word, perspective, or connection to necessary services?
If you haven’t watched it in awhile, refresh yourself on Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk about schools killing creativity. It’s a good reminder why this work is critical in a quickly-changing world where many problems we will face are global and where many careers don’t exist yet as more and more work becomes automated. Do we view the natural boundary-breaking instincts of creative-thinkers as disruptive or transformative? What are we doing to nurture this critical trait?
Try a “Do-It-Again” challenge based on a classroom activity or assignment where students are asked to take a different approach to completing the same task. Have them do it 3 times or 5 times or until they struggle to come up with something new and unique. Remind them that there are many ways to arrive at an answer!
Empower students to tackle real problems in your school or community. Make time for creative problem solving and exercise teamwork by having students brainstorm pain points, an action plan to solve them, how it connects to what they are learning, and tools/time to execute on putting the service into action. Experiential learning is almost always an exercise in creativity.
Try to offer, over the course of a semester, an opportunity to employ various creative skill sets to accomplish an assignment: writing, drawing, acting, video creation, photography, etc.. Encourage or require students to utilize at least one of each style throughout your class as they turn things in.
It’s nice to occasionally take a long enough break from being IN the work so that you can look AT the work. This perspective offers us challenging questions and helps identify gaps we might not otherwise see. And, thanks to the wisdom of 3 insightful students, we get some hints at where to start. Listen to the full podcast HERE and let us know what you think is “missing” and how to fill the gap!
Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."