People often talk about preparing students for the real world while they are in school. However, it is important to realize that a high school represents the real world for every student that sits in a classroom. This is because the time students spend in school is filled with opportunities to learn, socialize and contribute just as adults do in the workplace. For many students, however, the problem comes in when they attend schools that are underfunded or lack the ability to offer them true real life experiences that encourage personal growth. While under-funding is a significant barrier to ensuring every student finds success, educators can overcome this challenge by focusing on empowering students with the wisdom that they need to take to act and achieve their dreams.
Highlight the Importance of Communication
Sometimes, teachers fail to understand that students are still learning how to communicate effectively. Many students come from backgrounds where their language skills may serve as a barrier to finding success if other adults do not step in. For this reason, language classes should be about more than just having kids pass a test on grammar. Teachers can use these classes as teachable moments that foster communication abilities that will be used for a lifetime.
Learning how to write a proper business letter is important, but teachers can take this type of lesson one step further by allowing students to write a letter that applies to their life. Writing to a local government representative about an issue that is important to them or participating on the school newsletter team are both real life opportunities for kids to use their skills to make a difference.
Encourage Acceptance of Diversity
While educators consider it their professional duty to serve each student regardless of their background, it is important to help kids learn how to appreciate diversity. Planning group projects is one to help each student in the class learn how to work with other students who may not have the same ethnic or financial background. Whether students work to research a moment in history to present to the class or they plan a project to raise funds for an upcoming class trip, being in an environment where they must interact with people despite their differences empowers students to be able to transition into a diverse workforce after graduation.
Develop a Sense of Community
For students, their school represents an extension of their neighborhood and family where they can grow into maturity within a supportive environment. Recreational activities such as football and volleyball don't just give kids a chance to have fun. They also represent a powerful opportunity to promote a sense of community that allows students to thrive.
Seeing a sea of people with a stadium blanket in their school colors in the stands allows athletes to realize that the whole community is supportive of their hard work and determination. Reinforcing the belief that each student is a valuable member of the community helps keep kids on the right track for success.
Encourage Service Opportunities
At some point, almost every educator has had a student ask when they will ever need to know the concepts that they are learning. While it may be hard for students to grasp what they will be doing after graduation, it is possible to find ways to let students use the skills that they are learning now. Service opportunities are more than just a way to lift up a community. They also provide students with real life experiences that strengthen their developing skills.
Participating in a fundraising campaign encourages kids to practice sales techniques while learning how to manage money. Alternatively, volunteering to tutor another student fosters more effective communication skills while letting future educators test their interest in teaching.
Emphasize the Responsibilities of Leadership
Being the top football player or head of the drama team is more than just feeling special. Educators can use these roles in their schools to emphasize that leading others also comes with responsibilities.
Allowing students in leadership roles to share in important decisions promotes the idea that their actions affect others. Whether they help to choose where to direct recently acquired funds from a campaign or they create a plan to get healthier food in the cafeteria, knowing that they are helping influence the life of other students gives young school leaders a new perspective on why their contributions matter.
In the academic community, students with low self-esteem thrive when their educators highlight the importance of their hard work. Whether a class aces a standardized test or a single student decides to return to school after a major hardship, it is important to teach students to recognize others when they strive to do their best. For students, an award does not have to be expensive to reinforce positive behavior. Sometimes, all it takes is a pat on the back or a few kind words mentioned in the hallway. It is also important to help kids learn how to offer others encouraging words of support. Consider starting an anonymous compliment box in your classroom that allows students to write words of encouragement without the pressure of speaking up in class. Or highlight your sports team successes in a school assembly while also bringing to everyone's attention the efforts made by your student volunteers at improving the school.
When you empower students, you contribute to the continued improvement of the surrounding community. While in school, students learn more than just the basics of arithmetic and language. They are also learning powerful lessons about their place in the world. As educators, it is important to instill the ability within each student to use the wisdom they gain during these formative years to take action in their personal lives and communities. By investing in students now, every adult can ensure that their schools provide an environment where children can mature into adults who leave a lasting legacy of success within their community.