Several years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “Preparing our Students to be Community Leaders: An Initial Brainstorming.” After attending TEDxMemphis this weekend, I remembered the piece because I was reminded again and again during the TED talks of the vital importance of developing an interest in civic engagement and community leadership in our students. My thinking crystallizes in this thought: if we want our students to become civically engaged, community leaders as adults, our schools must be civically engaged. We must demonstrate as institutions the skills and priorities we want our students to learn within our curriculum and extra curriculum.Here in part is what I wrote in December 2011:”If we want to prepare students to be community leaders with qualities such as humility, decisiveness, passion, vision, and empathy, what should schools do to place their work developing those skills in greater relief? If successful leaders need skills such as the ability to take an unpopular stand, mobilize support for a shared goal, and remain undeterred by setbacks, what do schools need to do to develop those abilities in students?First thoughts:
- Help students learn about the larger community in which they live.
- Balance opportunities for students to serve, study, learn and contribute in their own communities with similar opportunities in environments that are different than their own.
- Engage students in learning that connects them to real-world issues.
- Identify areas in the curriculum where connections to real-world issues already exist implicitly and make those connections more explicit.
- Put students in the position to apply their intellectual abilities to discover issues facing their local community (or the world community).
- Put students in the position of finding and proposing solutions to those issues.
- Give students demanding and ongoing experiences working in groups facing complex tasks.
- Hold students accountable for their ability to express a cohesive, articulate, and knowledgeable viewpoint to a group of people.
I just had lunch with a colleague from another school, and our conversation circled this topic and how we might be able to push our respective schools toward better and better work in this area. The last National Association of Independent Schools Conference focused on public purpose in private education, and I have struggled ever since with how to envision what a big step forward might look like. That said, I believe we need to be bold in this area—our students need to know the central issues facing the communities in which they live (beyond the narrow confines of their own particular zip code), and they need to learn the skills that will allow them to exert their voices in the conversations about those issues.