What skills build thoughtful donors? Generous volunteers? Needle movers? Where are our children learning the needed competences that will build compassionate, giving individuals. These lessons all start in the classroom first, which functions as a microcosm of the society we encounter later in life. It is in the classroom that we are able to experiment, fail safely, and understand the consequences of the actions we take and those we do not take.
Teachers in the classroom can help students learn these lessons by creating team-based activities that recognize that everyone has a role and that each participant brings unique strengths. This simulates the committee dynamics individuals might encounter later while volunteering for a nonprofit. It can also help develop the boundaries individuals will later need to say ‘no’ to peer driven funding requests.
Mini giving circles can be hosted within a classroom, however instead of giving money, they can gift classroom time. These types of formal groups promote conscious decision-making where individuals have to make choices and present or defend them to their peers. This can serve to mimic conversations individuals may later have amongst family members or corporate giving committees they may serve on.
Teachers can also promote failing safely, creative problem solving, and thinking outside the box – tools which serve individuals in a myriad of ways, including when they will eventually be faced with much more difficult social issues like hunger, homelessness, and poverty. Multi step word problems, which include assumptions, help students develop their critical thinking abilities, question underlying beliefs, and increase their attention to cause and correlation. These become useful skills to build and assess logic models and their impact on a social issue.
More tangible lessons around budgeting, saving, and investing also help students develop an understanding about the real cost of items and having to make tough choices. Tasking this assignment as homework can also encourage meaningful, but possibly challenging, conversations about the choices we make and how they might tie to goals we set for our family and ourselves.
Lastly, adopting another classroom of students less fortunate than the one you find yourself in can also help contextualize experiences for students. Books, for example, can take on new value when seen through the eyes of an adopted classmate who treasures a once discarded book. Conversations about getting to school can generate far ranging and meaningful discussions – from class and privilege, to urban planning and transit.
Many lessons can be framed to build conscientious global citizens armed with the skill sets and knowledge to ask good questions, challenge assumptions, and work in partnership with others. Our society needs individuals ready to take on issues both old and new, with a vigor and urgency to solve and better communities near and far.
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