This month, I wanted to focus on stories about what's best for kids. Last week's story focused on building relationships and being a support system and advocate. This week, we go global with teaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Ryan found me and sent his story immediately, and I can understand why. He's doing really incredible things with his students. The true beauty of it is that not only is he preparing them for life beyond his classroom, but he is able to create an interdisciplinary learning environment steeped in meaning and authenticity. Here's Ryan Churchward's story...
The Journey Begins
Nine out of ten times when someone asks me where I found a great idea for a lesson or something cool to do in the classroom, the answer is the same: Twitter. The story behind how I learned about the Global Goals and the #TeachSDGs movement is no different. I had known about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, otherwise known as the Global Goals, since their birth in 2015, but hadn’t thought about the possibility of bringing them into my classroom until recently. But there’s something about that tiny blue bird that unleashes a wave of creativity and collaboration. When I discovered a whole global community of educators dedicated to teaching the Global Goals, I knew that not only would it fit perfectly with my class curriculum, but I felt a responsibility to my students, their futures, their communities, and the world, to join the movement.
Crafting Empathetic Global Learners
The course I teach is called Global Studies and is a required course for all sixth graders at Trinity Valley School. The Global Studies program at TVS is a contemporary, in-depth look at the people, places, and environments of the world from a physical and cultural perspective. Through a variety of classroom activities, including multiple projects, films, case studies, debates, cultural interactions, and simulations, my students gain an appreciation and understanding of the interdependent world in which they live. Students use skills and information learned in class to analyze global geographic problems related to each of the Global Goals as well as develop potential solutions to the goals.
Throughout the year, my students have been exposed to the world through the lens of the Global Goals. Each lesson we do tackles one or more of the SDGs. Students have been engaged in lessons regarding adaptive creativity in Japan (Goal 9), Inuit Communities of Northern Canada (Goals 11 & 12), rural poverty in Guatemala and Africa (Goals 1, 2, 3, & 4), the Taliban, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Malala (Goals 4, 5, 10, & 16), the Apartheid in South Africa (Goals 10, 16, & 17), the Caste System of India (Goals 10, 16, & 17), an asylum-seeking refugee simulation (Goals 16 & 17), the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Goals 16 & 17), a debate surrounding modernization of the Amazon Rainforest (Goals 11, 12, 13, 14, & 15), the human impact on the environment (Goals 12, 13, 14, & 15), and so much more! Of course, we also take time to celebrate diversity and various global cultures throughout our school year, in one particular way by celebrating cultural days of importance such as Dia de los Muertos, Hanukkah, Christmas, Holi, Cinco de Mayo, Ramadan, and more.
Currently, my students are engaged in an Eco-Awareness Portfolio, showcasing what they’ve learned throughout the year not only in my class but multiple disciplines. Students selected an endangered species from the World Wildlife Fund’s list of critically endangered. Along with that, students chose a country where their animal can be found as well as a specific threat on which to focus. Students are using skills acquired in their various subjects to create an engaging fair-day presentation to raise awareness about their endangered species. For their science class, they’re building a 3D biome and an animal habitat infographic map. For their math class, they’re creating a graph depicting data regarding their animal’s loss of habitat or population decline. For their English/language arts class, students are creating a myth or legend surrounding their animal. Lastly, for my class, students are writing a research paper about their animal, their country’s response, and the human impact on their animal’s future. In two weeks, parents, teachers, and community members will listen to our student presentations to raise awareness not only about the animals but global issues in general.
An extension of the course sees students taking action on more direct needs within the Fort Worth community as a conscientious effort to achieve the goals, develop a deep-rooted sense of empathy, and improve their communities as a whole. Throughout our journey, students have participated in individual and communal acts of community service around their communities. From donating to homeless shelters, raising funds for a children’s hospital, writing letters to wounded warriors, packing up backpacks to be delivered around the world, and providing welcoming arms to resettled refugees, my students have gone above and beyond to outwardly show the empathy for others that we’ve worked so hard to instill within. I hope that the feeling they got from serving others fuels their desire to share about and work towards achieving the Global Goals.
Why Teach the SDGs?
How can I begin to expect to change the world if I don’t first change myself? If we live such narrow-minded lives and don’t regard the fates and futures of others, we’re destined to leave little impact on this world. My current students will be 24-25 years old in the year 2030, the date on which the Global Goals hope to be achieved. They will be teachers, doctors, leaders, lawyers, scholars, husbands, wives, and parents. Why teach the SDGs? Because this is their future and I owe it to them to help realize the need for change which will benefit us all. Why teach the SDGs? Because as it was explained to me, we can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, significantly reduce gender inequality, reverse climate change, and provide quality education to every child everywhere. Why teach the SDGs? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Ryan Churchward (@rmchurchward) is a 6th Grade Global Studies Instructor at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas. Having received a Bachelors of Arts in Social Studies Education as well as a Masters Degree in Education, he has been able to channel his knowledge of the world and his passion for learning into a meaningful and relevant experience for students. He has also traveled the world planting trees on sustainable farms of Costa Rica and serving in refugee camps in Greece.