Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moving from "Have To" to "Want To"

My mind keeps going  back to last night's #PBLChat topic "Projects that Promote Civic Engagement". As always it was a good discussion, many resources were shared, but the big question for me was how to we move from students MUST do community service to students WANT to serve their community. As a point of clarification, I view the word community broadly, it can mean your school community, neighborhood, city, state, or even global community.
During the chat, Ryan Folmer shared a question he often asks students "Why does this matter?", Another chatter later tweeted an adaptation to that question, "Why does this matter, to me?"
I wonder if this is the key to getting students actively engaged in civic matters. In pondering this topic, I thought back through the years on times when I became involved in civic matters and what was the catalyst that made me get involved.
When I was in 4th grade, I met a girl at Camp Tecumseh who had a little brother with Down's Syndrome when he came to visit,  he used sign language to communicate, he was a wonderful 4year old boy who was happy to teach me the signs he knew. As I returned from camp, I volunteered at the local "Opportunity Center" teaching simple signs of basic sight words to pre-school students. What made me do this? Relationships, a personal connection the elicited a passionate response.
In high school I was in Senior Government class with a teacher I have tremendous respect for, Ron Shepherd. It was the beginning of second semester when the school announced that ROTC would be cancelled for 2nd semester and the program was closing. After this announcement came over the PA, I lamented that this was awful, what were the students in this program to do, their interest, their passion was being closed off to them. Mr Shepherd looked me in the eye and said, "Oh what a difference your pity makes, you will still cheer at the game on Friday, go to Prom and live on. Do you feel strongly enough to take any action?" I asked to be excused, went to the office, asked how many students were needed to keep the program for the semester. The answer was two. I quickly found my BFF, convinced her to drop her study hall like I was going to do and join ROTC. This is how I became a 1 semester member of ROTC. So a small act of civic engagement instigated by a challenge thrown down to not just talk, but take action.
In my adult life almost all of my civic engagement has been around children or education, I've worked to pass a referendum for a new school in our community when we lived in South Carolina, written letters (emails & tweets these days) to my senators or congressman about various issues around education, early childhood education and funding. If it is a cause I believe in I will take action. (Thank you mom, dad and Mr. Shepherd).
So when I look back and ask the question "Why did these things matter to me?" I can see that I taught sign language because my friend mattered to me, I joined ROTC because my teacher mattered to me, all of the action I've taken in the past few decades have been because children matter to me. I learned many other things about myself and the world through taking these actions, but initially it was the people who mattered to me that caused my actions.
What matters to you? What matters to your students? Why does it matter? Ask questions, have discussions, listen. Find out what matters and take action! Perhaps this is the key for moving our students from "have to" to "want to."


  1. Great Post. I think it all boils down to relevance and how can we make a lesson relevant to student's lives. In my experience if we do that, the "want to" should follow.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I agree, many times an issue is important/urgent to us, but may not feel that way for students! Relevance is key!

  2. I love the idea of "challenges thrown down.". Often, students will motivate themselves when they have something to themselves, to each other. Relationships make many things relevant!

    1. Agree that a challenge from someone we care about, who we know cares about us, is one we often want to rise to meet. I was blessed with several amazing teachers as I grew up!