The high school I teach at has roughly 600 students. I am currently teaching one section of Character Strong Leadership and five sections of math, and we all know how much high school kids like math. Out of the 137 minds that I get to mold each day, only twelve of them are enrolled in Principles of Leadership, a number that I hope increases in time.
I learned through servant-leadership and character development training that high school students are not learning the important skills to become better people. After the training and right before the start of the school year, I developed a goal for myself; I will share the servant leadership information to as many students as possible.
I quickly realized that this goal was very presumptuous, especially with the low number of students enrolled in the leadership class. In order to accomplish my goal, my thought process had to change. I had to “switch my thumbs,” so I did.
There was no way to impact the entire student body all at once. There was no way to get so much needed information to so many people, in so little time. What could I do? How could I start accomplishing my goal? I looked back through some of my notes from the training for an answer. Luckily I found one—the best quote from my 12-hour training session,
“What have you done for others today?”
It was the perfect quote to get me on the right path towards accomplishing my goal. Each letter of the quote is the size of an 8.5” X 11” piece of paper, and it nearly takes up an entire wall in my classroom. Anyone who steps into my room can clearly see it, and hopefully it makes them starting thinking about their answer. Have they done anything to help others today?
I’ll be honest. I don’t always teach “bell to bell.” Sometimes my math lessons end up being 5 to 10 minutes short of the end of the period. When this happens, I will randomly pick a student and ask them, “What have you done for others today?” It creates an opportunity for me to impact students by making them think about kindness and serving others. From this I’ve learned that there are different types of students in my classroom. A handful of students are proud about their actions and are excited to share with their peers. Some students are quiet and don’t really share that much. Either way, I witness them thinking through their day trying find a point in time where they have helped others. It is this thought process that I believe is making the most impact. Most importantly, students do not need any front loaded curriculum to answer the question. Their responses are genuine. Sometimes it turns into a classroom full of laughter, other times it turns into a more serious conversation.
I never imagined such a simple quote could change the dynamics of my classroom in such a positive way.
Tyson Sturza - Connell High School
The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.