Curriculum documents for Ontario’s public education system currently provide teachers with expectations that are geared towards social, interpersonal and citizenship development.
I don’t care so much that you remember what e= and you know the quadratic equation or you can recite the Shakespeare poem, it’s you coming to class and being present. That rapport has really served me in my teaching because then the students were engaged and I connected with them about something they were passionate about and they kept coming back.
As part of our effort to foster character development through youth empowerment, many of us have re-examined and reconsidered our measures and definitions of success. The Character Development Initiative and a host of other Ministry policy initiatives have provided a myriad of avenues enabling us to integrate character development and youth empowerment into the curriculum.
We are mandated by Ministry policy to support not just academic achievement, such as literacy and numeracy, but also character traits and social skills. By expanding our definitions of success, many teachers have integrated the development of character attributes, and hence, youth empowerment. By doing so, we communicate to students that we value these attributes and take them seriously, thereby reinforcing those qualities, behaviours and attitudes we want to encourage.
When we expect our students to demonstrate attributes such as empathy, respect for differences, and responsibility, this opens up limitless possibilities for pro-actively integrating these attributes into our students’ daily learning.
At the beginning I worked in a special education class. Often these students get stigmatized. People don’t believe in them and don’t think they have any capacity. One student wanted to do a project—a fundraiser for a country where there had been a natural disaster. I said, "okay" and the students involved mobilized the whole class. I facilitated the promotion and the cooperation. I helped them develop their mobilization skills. The kids didn’t raise much money but the girl who initiated the event felt really acknowledged. Her ideas mattered and the other students felt they could really help and they had the capacity to make a change and make a difference. I saw glimpses of them really having a chance to shine. It wasn’t perfect—not a made-for-TV ending—but I saw little glimpses of light and confidence. It was empowerment!