In Alberta’s Ministerial Order on student learning the government identified fundamental learning goals for students to ensure a prosperous and positive future for Alberta. We must aim to inspire all students to reach their full potential through the three Es’: “engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.” The second of the e’s – ethical citizen – is described in the Order as someone who “sees beyond self-interests to the needs of the community; as a steward of the earth, minimizes environmental impacts; [and]…demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion for all people.” This means that achieving success now and in the future requires students to see beyond themselves to the needs of others, take responsibility for the environment and demonstrate respect, empathy and compassion. This lofty goal is not clearly outlined in any grade level or subject area so we need to strive towards it daily – in all subjects and grades.
Three ways to inspire ethical citizenship:
- Model positive behaviour
Being a role model can be daunting, but whether we like it or not, we are models for our students. Being aware of this is critical to modeling positive behaviour. If we expect our students to demonstrate respect, empathy and compassion we need to demonstrate it ourselves. Modeling positive behaviour requires us to be authentic; we need to admit to mistakes, take responsibility for our actions and follow through on commitments and promises. Sometimes this can be difficult as a busy teacher, but it’s important since students are always watching and learning from our behaviour. D. C. Tosteson, a professor of medicine, said “we must acknowledge… that the most important, indeed the only, thing we have to offer our students is ourselves. Everything else they can read in a book.” Whether you’re teaching kindergarten or post-secondary students, one of the most important things you can impart on your students is ethical citizenship – which can’t be gleaned from a book.
- Provide opportunities to practice pro-social behaviour
According to a 2012 study from the University of California, youth that engage in pro-social behaviour (or simply kind acts) experience improved well-being, an increase in academic achievement and gained more social acceptance. Students that felt accepted or well-liked tended to be more inclusive to others reducing the social strata in the classroom which increases the average mental health of students. Authors of this study suggest that teachers can obtain these benefits by introducing intentional pro-social activities (regular and purposeful kind acts) into the classroom.
One way to introduce practicing pro-social behaviour is through the Kindness Challenge. Classes participate by committing to a kind act towards animals, people or the environment every day for a week and then reflect upon it. Reflection is an important component as it helps students to create meaning from the exercise – thinking about how kindness and pro-social behaviour ties into ethical citizenship.
- Provide opportunities for students to contribute to their community
Alberta Education’s Framework for Student Learning identifies that “in developing their identity, learners see themselves as individuals and as active agents of a broader world” and that this is achieved through “being active participants in their local and global community.” A great way to encourage active participation is through service learning projects. Through these projects, students can identify issues in their community and work towards finding solutions while simultaneously meeting curricular outcomes. Service learning has many benefits for students, teachers, the school and the community. Our step-by-step guide explains how to start a service learning project; alternatively, a quick Google search can come up with many ideas on how to engage students in service learning or project-based learning.
Through modeling respect, empathy and compassion, practicing pro-social behaviour and engaging students to make a difference in their community we can promote happier students, kinder classrooms and ultimately more ethical citizens.
Government of Alberta. Alberta Education. “Framework for Student Learning: Competencies for Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit”. 2011 Web. 1 Oct 2015
Layous, K, Nelson, SK, Oberle, E, Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Lyubomirsky, S. “Kindness Counts: Promoting Proscoial Behavior in Preadolescents Boots Peer Acceptance and Wellbeing” PLoS ONE. Dec 2012. Web 1 Oct.2015.
Cruess, SR, Cruess, RL, Steinert, Y. “Role Modelling – Making the most of a powerful teaching strategy” BMJ. 29 Mar. 2008. Web 1 Oct. 2015.