As the world watches, wondering who will be the next President of the United States, our children are watching, too, and they see and understand more than we might imagine. We’ve all heard the expression that “kids are like sponges.”
I’m a bullying survivor, author and speaker who’s dedicated her life to being an agent of change in the American school system. I know first-hand the impact that mixed messaging from adults can have on student behavior.
When we encourage a school culture of tolerance and respect, and then students observe the opposite playing out in real time in the presidential election, on TV and across social media, and perhaps even in their own parents’ conduct online, it can seep back into the school.
We might see this trickle effect take the form of rumor and innuendo, a dirty look, a cruel joke, a nasty group text or Snapchat stream, or a sense of entitlement in expressing hostility towards any classmate who’s different. And then there’s parent-on-parent bullying.
How can we take the potential fall-out from this election and use it as an opportunity to deepen the character of students, build more community in the classroom, and harness the humanity of our schools?
What are some simple, creative initiatives that we can integrate into the learning day that not only bring out the best in all of us but allow students to set the example for the adults in their lives? Below are a few ideas that I hope you’ll find helpful:
- Ambassador of Compassion Initiative
Ask each student to research an issue they care about that was a topic in this election (for example, the environment, civil rights, the economy, immigration, health care, Covid-19), what’s being done on a local level to address it, and then come up with an idea of how they can help, whether it’s raising money, a random act of kindness for someone they know impacted by this issue, or a poster campaign to generate support and awareness. The key is that students experience what it feels like to make a difference and that they each have the power to accomplish it.
- Finding Your Voice and Being Heard
Have each student research who their congressperson is and then write a letter to him/her about an issue they care about and why, featuring one suggestion on what they would do to address it if they were in congress. Forward the letters to the congressperson’s office and share the response with students.
- Gratitude Videos
The election has put so much focus on what we don’t have, we’re losing sight of all the wonderful things in our lives that we do have. Ask students to compile a three minute “Gratitude Video.” Encourage them to ask their parents to help. Explain to students all you want them to do is communicate what they’re grateful for and to feel free to approach this as creatively as they’d like. They could do something as simple as look at the camera and talk about what they’re grateful for or they could present it like a TV commercial or short film. You may wish to share with students what you’re grateful for to get them started.
- Good News Show & Tell
Have each student find an uplifting, inspiring story online and bring it to class to share. It could be a story about an animal rescue, an act of heroism, a tiny gesture of kindness, something that reflects the goodness of the human spirit and the potential in all of us to live it. Post the stories on the school website and have visitors vote on the most inspiring.
The divisiveness and hostile rhetoric of this election mustn’t define our memory of this moment. Having successfully prepared our students to fulfill the promise of their potential and be the hope and the change, that’s what we should remember when we look back on 2020.
About Jodee Blanco:
Jodee Blanco is the author of two New York Times bestsellers including the seminal Please Stop Laughing at Me…., and numerous other books on bullying. The first survivor to pen a memoir looking back on her school experiences as an adult, she’s considered a pioneer of the anti-bullying movement and one the most respected experts on the subject. She’s spoken to thousands of students, teachers and parents and implemented her anti-bullying program INJJA (It’s NOT Just Joking Around!), that includes student, professional development and parent components, in hundreds of schools. Visit www.jodeeblanco.com for more.