High energy, tattoo- clad, and smiles from ear to ear, this is Steve and Aaron, founders of Inspire Citizens. Upon first glance, they don’t look like educators. They look like you might find them in a night club and not a classroom, but they are the real deal. I first met them in Budapest at the AFS global education conference, and we hit it off right away. Passion about global education emanated from Steve’s quiet demeanor and Aaron’s wildly gesturing arms. They’re guys you just want to hang out with and “talk shop.”
Turns out, they live in Beijing, and so do I, so it was only natural that I should tag along on a couple of their school visits. And I’m so happy I did because this particular day back in October was part of their Activist in Residence program. In this program, they work with schools to develop project-based learning units focused on the work of a particular activist and issue. The Activist in Residence program brings content to life showing students that their learning means something, motivating them to learn more and be empowered to create change in their communities and the world.
The activist who was visiting with them was Salva Dut, one of the lost boys of South Sudan turned founder of Water for South Sudan and advocate for community health and gender equality. Towering over everyone in the school and thin as a beanpole, Salva was kind and patient as students took turns asking questions to learn more about his incredible life story. His story is much too amazing to tell here, and he deserves his own post (which I will write very soon).
While I was awed and inspired by hearing Salva speak to the students, I was even more impressed by the structure of the learning Steve and Aaron designed to enrich the experience. Steve and Aaron made the day relevant by making intentional connections to what students had been studying, connected to literary themes through the book, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, in which Salva’s story is told. One class focused on research skills and active listening with the idea that everyone has a story, everyone faces challenges, and when you add a bit of author’s craft, you can create a compelling narrative. With another class, they looked at genre specifically through the lens of memoir and students worked in small groups to develop questions to ask during a “TV interview” with Salva. The guys had very official looking equipment documenting everything. In the final class, they shifted to the theme of water and communities having students work in small groups to sort ideas and create questions about the impact wells have on a community. And all of this framed within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Oh, and by the way, these were all students who were native Mandarin speakers.
On a large scale, having Salva Dut connect with students is an incredible opportunity, but it may not be feasible in every school. What is feasible, however, is finding people in your community who are leading change efforts connected to the SDGs and inviting them into your classrooms. It’s also possible to connect with Steve and Aaron and check out their website where you can find more examples of the incredible work they are doing all over the world.
More about Steve and Aaron…
Following 15 years teaching elementary and middle school on three continents, Steve now specializes in embedding empathy, global competence, and UN SDG targets into whole schools and classrooms that empower students to make local and global community impact. He prepares administrative teams and K-12 teachers to incorporate global competence into project-based learning, curriculum and lesson plans, remaining sensitive to standards, criteria, competencies, language objectives, and tools for effective and efficient planning, feedback, and assessments. As a global TeachSDGs ambassador, Steve is also lead facilitator for the Inspire Citizens' student programs: 17 Skills for 17 Goals and Global Youth Media. Connect on Twitter @inspirecitizen1.
After being the teacher team leader for the innovative ISB Futures Academy in Beijing and now a global TeachSDGs ambassador, Aaron now envisions education as empowering students to desire active citizenship in our world, equipped with knowledge, skills, and perspectives that will contribute to a sustainable future and counter social inequality and environmental degradation. Through providing teachers and students with effective systems thinking frameworks and tools such as media literacy strategies and action planning in project-based environments, he strives to help schools, students, and communities be change agents to positively impact our world. Connect on twitter @inspirecitizen2.