Global Citizens

Atlas, it's time for your bath

It was January 28, 1986 when a space shuttle was to be launched into space with the first ever teacher aboard.  As far as space shuttles went, our school did not really watch that kind of thing as we had only two televisions in our school of about 250 students.  Obviously we did not have the Internet at that time, and our biggest resource of information was the school set of encyclopedias.

Then we got the horrible news about what happened that day when after launch, the Challenger had exploded killing the entire seven member crew.  A classmate took it exceptionally hard as his dad, a well know Biology teacher, was in the running to actually be on that aircraft.  I remember huddling into the library at lunch and watching what happened and just stunned by the whole thing.  Was this real?  What caused the explosion? How were the families going to deal with this?

At the end of lunch, we all went back to our classrooms with so many questions for our teacher and yet she had no answers of what happened.  How could she?  Everything had happened so quickly and I am sure that she was just as stunned as the rest of us.   The best we could do was go home after school, catch the news that was on and then we would find out more what happened to the members of the crew.  Little did I know that I was going home to my mom who was about to tell me that my grandpa had died.  Although he was an entire world away in Greece, and I only had the chance to meet him twice in my life, it obviously impacted me tremendously.  I went to hockey practice later that night, but asked if I could be excused as I was obviously reeling from the sadness of the events of the day.

Fast forward to today.  Events as tragic seem to happen too often, especially with the amount of weather related disasters around the world.  It seems that we are not able to go a week without a hurricane devastating a state or flooding destroying the lives of many.  These types of disasters happen far too often, and I am sure at any point of time, there are the “Challenger” moments in each of our lives; something that just affects us in a way that we cannot shake.

What I remember most about that day was the helplessness of it all.  All of these people killed in a tragic crash, their families’ lives altered forever.  We had those few minutes of seeing what was happening when I was in grade 5, and then we were sent on our way with more questions than answers.

Now what I have seen from our students, which many people would disagree, is a sense of belonging to this human race and empathy for those that have been impacted by these events.  Kids can get the answers to these tragedies and not be left feeling so helpless.  In fact, what I have seen for the last several years as an educator, is our students doing things to help people all around the world in their time of need.  Contrary to what many would have you believe, many of our students share this value of being a citizen of a world, and when disaster strikes in Japan, they learn about it, and try to figure out ways that they can help.  When people talk about our past and how we cared more about the world, I have a slightly different take.  I see true empathy from our students that I can honestly  say that I did not see in myself as a child.  It was not that I didn’t want to help, it was just that I did not have the same opportunity to do so or to even understand what was happening in real time.  I wanted to help but at the same time felt so helpless.

When we take the opportunities to help our kids connect with the world, they start to truly become a part of it.  The tolerance, understanding, and empathy of this generation of students seems to be extremely strong.  Of course it is not 100% and there are some kids who (seemingly) could care less; that is with every generation.  More and more though, the eyes of our students are opened to what is happening in our world and it is amazing that many of them are not waiting for the future to take care of it, but are starting right now.

  • http://www.schoolleadership20.com Bill Brennan

    George,
    What a great post! I remember this nearly the same way you do. At the time I was a 3rd grader and had just moved into this school a few days earlier.

    I don't think we give our kids enough credit today, especially when the majority of schools aren't teaching them to be global citizens. This past week I spoke on a panel for a social media in edu conference and I surveyed the audience (informally) in regards to their level of access to social media tools. It's sad that in 2011 we aren't yet doing more to implement these tools. It was a great group of people at this conference, but the majority continue to express barriers to the use of these tools.

    How is the access to technology and the filtering situation by you? Is social media making its way into the classroom and what role do you feel school leaders are playing in this? I will be doing some research shortly on Principal use of social media for personal and organizational learning. Would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thanks again for the great post.

    @billbrennanedu

  • http://avenue4learning.com Michelle Baldwin

    I just commented on Kevin Jarrett's FB about the same event. Our school watched it live, because one of our teachers had been next in line after Christa McAuliffe.

    I'll never forget the reaction of the teacher I was with that day. At first, we didn't realize what had happened… and then when the news commentators were stunned into silence, we started to understand. Our teacher was amazing. She allowed us to see her hurt, but she also comforted us at the same time. Everything else she had planned for that day was swept aside, and we sat and talked, asked questions, cried… it was truly horrific, but we also had some amazing discussions that day. I've never forgotten that experience, and I always think about that specific teacher. She handled the situation very humanly, and she helped me realize that teachers are just as human as their students. Even if she didn't realize it at the time, she made an enormous impression on me that day, and she's been someone I've tried to emulate in my own teaching.

    That human element for teachers and students- learning to connect to other people face to face as well as those we don't "see," care for each other, empathize- if I teach my students nothing else but how to truly care for others, I'll feel successful.

  • http://www.missateaches.wordpress.com Melissa Everitt-Dallinger

    Here here.

    My students, who have had more than their share of tragedies, were intense in their exploration of Japan. I sent out link after link to the students and staff and they proved insatiable.

    When they had a sub who had family in Japan and had lived there as a child, she was amazed at their insightful questions and their extensive knowledge. They knew some things she didn’t! My lesson plans were out the window, but the depth of the conversation that day was immeasurable. (I was quite jealous when I debriefed with the sub…I wished I had been able to stay!)

    Proof that being a global citizen and using technology in the classroom can truly connect students to the world! AWESOME!

    • georgecouros

      Thanks so much for sharing Melissa :)

  • http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical Bill Ferriter

    Good bit, George—and I'm with you on your central premise that technology is making our students more aware and empathetic global citizens.

    What's even cooler is that technology gives our students the chance to feel empowered to make real change in the world.

    When we were kids, "making a difference" meant starting a lemonade stand, collecting a few bucks from our neighbors and sending it with a letter via the local red cross.

    Today, our students can use technology to do so much more. My 12 year old sixth graders, for example, have a microlending club that has loaned out almost $6,000 to 125 entrepreneurs in some of the poorest countries on earth.

    Each week, we come together to study the countries and to study the entrepreneurs. We find families who have nothing compared to what we have here in the developed world—but who have big dreams and a determination to improve their lives. Then—using the microlending site Kiva—we make loans.
    http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_ra

    I just think that's such a powerful action and message for my kids. You CAN care about the world. More importantly, you CAN take real action to improve the lives of people in the poorest countries on the planet even when you're 12.

    Good stuff.
    Bill