This past week I had the opportunity to attend WE day in Winnipeg with my practicum schools social justice group. It is the first time that this national event made a stop in Winnipeg. I was amazed that I was lucky enough to be asked to go to this life changing event. I would wager that every teacher out there would love to attend an event such as WE day. The phenomenal thing is that in order to attend the events students and schools have to commit to one local and one global social justice action in the school year. So before and after the students are actively engaged in social justice projects, and are able to change the world one small step at a time.
WE day is an event where schools and students from across the province come to meet and hear from inspirational people who are working hard to make change in our world. The speaker’s passions run the gambit from environmental activists, to people against child soldiers, poverty fighters and to people who show that the impossible is possible. The event hopes to inspire and motivate young students to be the agents of change they want to see in the world!
One of the most moving speeches involved no talking at all. The crowd of 16 000 were asked to sit in silence as Michel Chikwanine took the stage. Michel held up poster boards that told his story of how he was kidnapped as a child and was forced to be a child soldier. It was eerie being in a room full of 16 000 people sitting in complete silence. I am sure that Michel Chikwanine’s silent speech changed some lives.
A second speech that I know inspired and struck the students was the speech by Spencer West. Spencer’s tagline is “Redefine Possible” and once you see him speak you can clearly see why. The thing is Spencer doesn’t have any legs and walks around on his hands. After he was lost his legs he was told that he would never be able to sit, walk or lead a normal life again. But he hasn’t let this negativity stop him on his journey to change the world. Seeing student’s faces as they watched him speak, you could see the light bulbs going off in their heads thinking “If he can do what he does, then I can do anything I put my mind to”. Another life altering speech.
In the early years classroom social justice has a natural and important role to play. Young students are innately aware of that there are injustices in the world we live in and often feel powerless to right the wrongs that they see. As a teacher we can encourage students to take action. These actions start small such as students helping students in the classroom e.g. to step in when you see bullying happening. Then they grow a little bigger to helping the school, the community and eventually can end at a global level.
An event like WE day shows all students that they are as Al Gore would say ”you are not powerless” and that they can make and need to be the change they want in to see the world.
Photograph by Justin W. Moore (http://www.outdorphoto.com/)
Initially this post was going to be about how teacher’s words can change a child’s life but I got so caught up with the WE day part, I neglected mentioning it until now. When speaking to children in the classroom how one addresses them and interacts with them can have lifelong implications for that child and all the children in the classroom.
Sadly in previous years I have seen teachers yelling, belittling and shaming children when they were producing work not up to par with the teachers expectations. To this day those words hurt my heart when I think about them. Although those words were being expressed to communicate that a child was not meeting what was expected, what they were really doing was making that child shrink into themselves. They were being told that they were not good enough and that the only way to do something was the way the way the teacher wanted. All those students learnt was that you had better to do it the way I want or else you will face the teachers wrath. It encouraged no critical thinking, no risk taking, no creative freedom and sadly did not impart any meaningful learning. How are those students supposed to function in an increasingly complex world when they are afraid to do all these things?
Watching those interactions has solidified the way I want to be as a teacher. I want to encourage my students to take risks, to be creative and to produce the high quality work that they are personally able to do. Each child is different, their work will be different and they will produce high quality work when encouraged and given the caring support they need. Empowering your students means that you show them that they are capable of amazing things and that you are there to show them how if they need it.
This year I am in a classroom that is in line with my beliefs as a teacher and with someone I would consider a truly inspiring teacher. It is astounding to see how kind words and encouragement can create confident, thoughtful, risk taking students. Students who were afraid to try things in September are now trying new things. They are not afraid to ask questions and to let their curiosity guide them. They are being given the tools to succeed.
Words silent, soft or loud can forever change lives.
For great resources and more information check out: http://www.weday.com/
C.C. Francis Anderson