Helping your pupils find their role models

Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones, who loves sharing ideas, is a Google Certified Teacher interested in creativity and innovation in the classroom. She thrives on trying new things and engaging and empowering students. Her blog was a finalist in the 2013 EduBlog awards and was recommended by The Guardian as a must-read for 2014.

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For many teachers, how successful the child sat in front of them in their classroom will be is already a done deal. Those children sat in front of you are all products of their environment and upbringing. Gender, ethnicity and, most importantly, social class all play a significant part in determining how well a child will do at school. So - with that in mind - we must fight as teachers not to label children. Instead it is our job to lift them out of the mundanity of their lives and give them big wide horizons. Never think that a child can’t. Ask how we can show them they can. 

A few years ago I was having a tutor review with a very bright young lady. The first in her family to go to college. We were talking about plans after college and she said she was going to get a job. When I suggested she would be more than qualified to go to University she was genuinely shocked, but not as shocked as I was at what she said:

“University isn’t for people like me.”

Her parents unwittingly, and with love, taught her that her place in the education system would end at 18. The ‘not for the likes of us’ mentality pervades every school in the UK. Never before have we been so divided between the haves and the have nots. Teachers are working in roles not dissimilar to social workers to provide opportunities to children who, without them, would never know what it really feels like to have someone value your work and the contribution you can offer. So how do we help young people today find positive role models associated with aiming high, working hard and being resilient? Certainly we won’t find many if we look to the media and popular culture. Even our politicians and those who represent us are often lacking in terms of inspiration and guidance.

However, just like many situations, this is not black and white, and there are many organisations fighting to provide young people with positive role models. The National Careers Week does excellent work in showing students why making informed decisions can lead to better life chances. After all, how would you know you need to try hard at Maths if you have no idea how important it might be to your career options later? The BIMA Digital day does excellent work in connecting industry professionals with school children to encourage them to see their learning as a vehicle of success in life, and not just in school. There are countless organisations and charities giving children the opportunity to see the world in a new way, the inspire them to want to achieve more. However, at the chalkface, it can be very difficult to keep children motivated and inspired. So lets think practically; what can teachers do to help children find positive role models?

Many teachers have multiple roles in school. This is important because it allows students to see us, as teachers, outside the classroom doing what we do and sharing our passions. Share your passion for your subject, but you but could very well have a passion for geography, drama, or something outside your own subject area. We are hopefully teaching because we enjoy our subject and want to inspire others in a similar way, or nurture those students who show flare and have similar interests. You know it's not easy to run that trip or arrange that visit, but by going that extra mile, putting in that little bit of extra time it's amazing the results that can be achieved by showing the students how the topic fits into the real world and showing them that you think it's worthwhile.

The introduction of iPads in our school this year has granted us many new and exciting opportunities, but also created some challenges that we as staff are currently facing. It isn’t always easy to admit that we possibly don't know as much as the students, as far as the technology goes. However, it it can be a rewarding experience to start working with your classes to overcome problems, and it’s empowering moment for a student to teach the teacher something new. Some of my most unexpected, and pleasant, moments from the past few weeks have come from students showing me something new that will really help. Having the confidence in your subject knowledge and the willingness to take a risk can show your class that you know you're not the oracle of all knowledge but you just might be worth listening to some of the time!

It’s worth considering, therefore, that by giving students responsibility within school, we create positive peer role models on a daily basis. Whether it be at the side of a rugby pitch when a house captain encourages a tri, or by creating student experts such as digital leaders who other students go to for help and advice. Positive role models are not limited to teachers within a school, not limited to adults, but should span the school community.

A school council allows students to elect their own role models to give them student voice and to represent the views of the masses. On a basic level of responsibility, a house captain (for example) arranges sports teams and begin to feel some influence over other students. This influence can be linked to an outcome, and this outcome maybe a simple as a won or lost sports match, but it directly links the student to the responsibility with which they have been bestowed.

Entrusting students with mobile technology and allowing them to take control of the way they are learning gives individuals responsibility to for their own learning. For example, allowing a student to use mobile technology, mirroring their own iPad screen, to complete a task for the class to view creates a momentary role model within that lesson. Having the confidence as a teacher to allow students to feel they understand the technology we are using better than we do undoubtedly empowers.

From the beginning of a child's education, we should be working with them, providing them with the tools to grasp the fundamental social skills that will help them to become positive role models themselves; understanding their own self worth, how to build positive relationships, become effective contributors and how to above all show resilience to all the responsibly that young people growing up in today's society will face.

Helping students find positive role models is a balancing act between wanting to be a positive influence in their life, but also letting them find their own path. By nurturing those in our classroom, and being interested in more than the academic performance of a child, we are going some way to being a role model, whether the children realise it at the time or not.

[By Rachel Jones, Dave Blow and Amelia Stone from King Edward VI School, Southampton]

Do you use similar techniques in the classroom? Let us know in the comments.

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