Our world is big, yet our viewpoints can be so small. Typically, we find ourselves surrounded by those who are similar to us, forming communities and networks who look like us and share our core values. But with such a vast world full of varying cultures and distinctions, this may mean we’re missing out on opportunities to grow and change. .
Due to modern advances, people are more connected than ever before. Yet it can be hard to reach out and learn from new perspectives. In today’s hyper-partisan society, this issue is further magnified. That is why it is important that we educate the next generation on the importance of becoming global citizens who are aware of and can advocate for issues both locally and around the world.
As an educator for more than 15 years, I have worked to empower my students to use their voices to advocate for causes they believe in.
Currently, I teach a high school class on Contemporary World Issues. The students in my class are at a critical age where they are beginning to realize the power of their voice. Through lessons and an open learning environment, I hope to provide them with the megaphone they need to amplify their voice. Here are my three tips on how teachers can help students find and use their voice.
Get Students Engaged
A major portion of my class is discussion-based. Rather than relying solely on lectures, discussions engage my students and provoke critical thinking. I am careful to never preach to them or tell them what I personally believe, but aim to provide open-ended opportunities for thoughtful exploration.
However, I do facilitate discussions on interesting topics where students can share their thoughts and learn from their classmates. This peer-to-peer system of learning has led to great conversations on important topics, such as global economies and kneeling for the national anthem, the global refugee crisis, and climate change, amongst others.
It’s important that our discussions are on topics of interest to them. At the beginning of the year I send out a survey to my students to get to know more about them. I ask how I can help them learn about their interests, and their favorite and least favorite subjects. This helps me to get a sense of who they are as individuals as well as their backgrounds and goals.
In addition, I ask if they have suggestions on what they would like to discuss. “What are some of the biggest problems in the world today? What would happen if these issues aren’t addressed? How can we communicate with our leaders and advocate for these issues?” This way, I can pair themes with established curriculum topics and foster discussions that are more engaging for them, while setting an expectation that I value their input right from the beginning.
Bring the World to the Classroom
While engaging discussions can increase student participation, I also like to take a step further by opening their worldviews. One way to accomplish this is by inviting guest speakers to classes so that students can get a first-hand account on different cultures and perspectives.
Last year, I invited a couple who did relief work after the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka to speak to my students. They talked about their experiences, how the government worked, the country’s civil war, and how all of this impacted the relief work they did. My students had the chance to learn how natural disasters not only impact the land but the people who reside there as well, and they learned how preexisting social and political climates play a role when a natural disaster strikes.
Having these first-hand accounts is much more powerful than simply reading from a textbook. Hearing personal narratives from people who have witnessed different cultures can do so much in helping students expand their world views.
Get Students Involved
An important item that I emphasize for my students is that change will not happen overnight. Rather, many steps must be taken in order to move politics, culture or society in general in a new direction. Sometimes the hardest thing can be taking the first step towards change.
When I am working to empower students to find their voices, I want to not only facilitate discussions and introduce them to individuals with first-hand accounts, I also want to demonstrate how they can use their voices to create change.
One way that I work this into our lessons is to have students participate in letter writing campaigns. This ‘old-fashioned’ form of outreach still holds enormous weight today in bringing about change. It’s one way for students to have their voice heard and share their thoughts on some of the biggest issues today. From their legislators to community leaders, students have had great success in spreading their voices far and wide.
For three years now, students in my classes have worked with an NGO that supports children in Iraq traumatized by ISIS attacks. Students write letters and draw pictures sharing messages of hope and compassion with kids their age, halfway around the world. This drives home for my students that the headlines they may see on the news are impacting real people, and that there is an important need to be aware of what is going on in the world.
Seeking Their Voice
My goal is that each student who enters my classroom develops a passion and a purpose for service and the self-confidence to become a global citizen. By providing students with these unique opportunities, I hope their world view is widened, and they gain a better sense of responsibility for advocating for issues they believe in.
Moving forward, I plan to bring more guest speakers to the classroom and continue letter writing campaigns. No matter the topic we are addressing, it is important that students are aware of what going on in the world today, and the role they can play in it.
By taking care of our neighbors both at home and abroad, we all can work to make the world a much better place.
Ashley Spencer has served as an educator for more than 15 years, eight of which have been in online public school classrooms. Currently, Ashley is a high school teacher at Texas Online Preparatory School, teaching Contemporary World Issues.