Using History to Inspire Students to Care

Growing up, I loved the Care Bears.  I used to watch the cartoons and loved the movies.  I even had a stuffed Care Bear.  If my aging memory is still working effectively, I believe I had Lion Heart.  As a child, I loved the idea that animals could project objects and actions from their stomachs.  Imagine if humans could do that, I used to wonder.  How cool would that be?  I would totally shoot cotton candy or toys out of my belly.  While I clearly didn’t enjoy the Care Bears for the right reason when I was younger, I now get it.  Caring for each other is super important.  We need to protect our loved ones and friends, while also protecting our world.  We need to take care of Mother Nature so that future generations of humans will have a place in which to inhabit.  We need to be kind and thoughtful.  Although it took me about 20 years to realize what the Care Bears were really trying to teach me when I was a child, I did finally come to understand the importance of caring.  However, I still often contemplate the idea of shooting things out of my stomach, especially when I’m really hungry.  Pizza or ice cream perhaps.  Hmmm, the choices.

As a teacher, I often wonder how I can best help my students learn the value in caring, sooner than I did.  While my amazing fifth grade students are very kind and caring towards each other, is that enough?  Sure, they are empathetic and very quick to read the emotions of their peers so that they can act in effective and meaningful ways towards one another.  They often help me in the classroom without being asked.  They take care of each other like a family.  Just last week, when one of my students was clearly distraught about her performance in a school activity, one of her classmates came to her rescue and cheered her up, without prodding from me.  She did it because she knows that caring matters.  But, is taking care of each other enough?  What about the world in which we live?  With our climate changing at an unprecedented pace, causing many global catastrophes, I worry about my students and the future that they will undoubtedly be living in.  I worry that storms will continue to grow in intensity, flooding will become more wide spread, and fires will threaten even more communities.  How can I help them see that something needs to be done?  How can I help inspire my students to be change makers?  I mean, we discuss current events on a weekly basis in the classroom, and often talk about the issue of climate change.  I share facts and information with the students on the climate crisis threatening our world and existence.  They clearly understand that climate change is a real problem, but what about solutions?  How can I help them learn to want to take action and bring about change in the world?  How can I inspire my students to make a difference in the world and care about this great planet on which we are so thankful to be living?

As I often feel the great weight of responsibility pushing down upon me when I enter my classroom each and every day, I am so grateful for teachable moments and opportunities for learning.  This past Monday, as most students slept in and played video games with their friends to mark Civil Rights Day, the Beech Hill School was afforded an awesome opportunity.  We spent the morning talking and learning about the Civil Rights Movement and phenomenal change makers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We watched Dr. King’s entire I Have Dream speech, listening to his call to action and inspiring words.  We learned how change doesn’t just happen, and that we, the people, need to bring about change.  Each grade watched a different movie regarding this time period in American History.  My fifth grade class watched the inspiring movie Selma, Lord Selma, which told the story of the famous march in Selma, Alabama that helped to bring about change in Washington, D.C.  What I enjoyed most about this particular film was the perspective it offered my students.  The movie wasn’t just sharing facts about this momentous event, but instead it told the story from the point of view of a young girl, about the age of many of my students.  She helped to foster change in her town.  She saw a problem and made a difference.  She was a change maker, in a time when major changes needed to happen.  She was inspired to care for something greater than herself, as I often hope to help my students learn to do.  So, I grabbed opportunity by the horns and used it to my advantage.

While we didn’t debrief or discuss this movie in the moment, I did talk about it in class the following day during our Morning Meeting.  I had the students provide me with feedback on their thoughts regarding the movie.  They all loved it and think I should use it again next year as the movie the fifth grade class watches on this special day.  A few students shared their thoughts and questions on the movie with the class.  They were all so amazed that one young girl could have had such a big impact on the world.  And that’s when I pulled out my soap box.  I explained how it just takes one spark to start a fire.  One person can make a difference.  “I challenge you all now to go out into the world and make a difference.  Look for problems in our world and make a change.  Make some noise.  Talk to people and create solutions.  Be the change you wish to see the in the world.  For example, the climate crisis.  Look at how one brave teenager from Sweden has helped the world to see how important of an issue Climate Change truly is.  I challenge you to look for problems in our world and find ways to fix them.  Bring about change in our world so that it is still around for you and future generations of people,” I said to my students.  As I often get on my soap box when talking about things that are important to our world, I figured that my students probably just tuned me out when I spoke to them on Tuesday morning.  But, I had to try.  I took the opportunity with which I was provided to help teach my students to care about something beyond our class family.

Well, it turned out that my students were actually listening to me.  They heard my call to action.  All of my nauseating talk of helping to save the world and make it a better place for all, finally sunk in.  Later that day, two students proposed an idea to me.  “Mr. Holt, we want to help the students be more mindful of what they are throwing in the trash so that we can help to slow down climate change.  We want to make a trash chart on which we would note all of the trash of which we dispose in the classroom.  We want to try it and see if it helps,” they said to me.  Inside, I was sobbing like that Christmas Santa brought me the original Optimus Prime Transformer, the metal one, while outwardly I contained my enthusiasm and excitement.  “Wow, that sounds like an awesome idea.  Let’s see what the rest of  the class thinks.  If they are on board, then I say, let’s go for it,” I said to them.  Later that afternoon, during our Closing Meeting, one of the students who had brainstormed this amazing idea, talked to the class about it.  Everyone agreed that it was a fantastic idea.  We even added an incentive.  The student with the lowest amount of hash marks on the chart at the end of each week, will receive a special prize.  The students were enthused about this new challenge.

So, that afternoon, that one student created our first Trash Chart and posted it near the garbage can in our classroom.  What a simple but very cool idea.  The next morning, we began noting all of the trash we threw away.  Every tissue counted as one piece of trash.  Every tea bag and tea bag wrapper of which I disposed counted as a separate piece of trash.  Very quickly, I started to see that I was adding much trash to our trash can.  The students noticed this as well.  Like I’m constantly pushing them to do, I decided to make a change of my own.  I don’t like how wasteful I am with my tea supplies.  So, this weekend I am going to purchase a reusable tea ball and loose tea leaves so that I am not promoting the creation of more wasteful products.  My students inspired me to make a change.  It’s like the circle of change.  I helped to inspire them to foster change, which in turn made me bring about change.  It’s like a huge change train.  Chhoo-Chhoo, all aboard the Change Train to a better tomorrow.


Like the Care Bears taught me, I’m helping to teach my students the power in caring for something greater than just ourselves and each other.  If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?  History inspired this change to happen.  If it wasn’t for past change makers like Dr. King, Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and many more, then I wouldn’t have been able to inspire my students.  It truly takes a village to educate and raise a community of future change makers.

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