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We Are Crew: Chapter 6: Helping Students Contribute to a Better World through Crew

How can Crew support students contribute to building a better world?

Children want to be good people and they want to have an impact on the world they live in. They especially want to do excellent work for people they care deeply about. So, when schools bring the community into the school (e.g., inviting an ornithologist to teach second graders about birds to prepare them to contribute to a bird census) or take students out into the community (e.g., to interview homeless veterans to create a campaign to support them), students are especially invested in creating beautiful, accurate, and powerful work that contributes to that audience. The work itself builds students’ academic knowledge and skills and at the same time serves an authentic and worthy purpose.

What’s more, when schools build time and space for paying attention to character into the school curriculum, schedule, and instruction, students also come to know that “doing good work” by acting in the service of others is how they become the people they want to be. There are many ways students’ actions can serve and contribute to the community. The scope of “making the world a better place” ranges from one simple act of kindness—helping a friend or Crewmate, clean up the playground—to starting a movement that spreads around the world. Students in EL Education schools, sustained by the daily attention they give to character in Crew, contribute to their communities in all of these ways.

"I love being a teacher at Capital City because we are not timid about the social justice issues of our time. We grapple with them directly, critically, and creatively to empower our students to use their talents to build a more equitable and just society.” Tim Shaw, teacher, Capital City Public Charter School

Learning Target

  • I can describe how Crew supports students to contribute to a better world.

Watch: Students sing their hearts out to celebrate Better World Day during the Covid-19 crisis

Despite physical isolation, Thirty-four student-musicians from eleven schools in seven states came together to compose, rehearse, and perform a song celebrating EL Education’s annual Better World Day. The students accomplished this while also doing distance learning and in some cases helping siblings and working at essential jobs. This collaborative effort brought joy, gratitude, and comfort during a time of crisis. No questions . . . just listen and sing along!

Watch: “Classroom Responsibilities”

Crew is a place to help students see the big picture in which service to others, respect for themselves, and collaboration with one another are all part of changing the world. To facilitate students’ understanding of how the community works, teachers can let go of sole responsibility for running the classroom and instead teach students how to collectively manage the Crew and classroom environment. Identifying and fairly allocating responsibilities for maintaining Crew and classroom spaces and logistical tasks is a great way to begin.  As you watch the video, consider the following questions:

  1. How do classroom routines and protocols that put students in charge and hold them accountable for creating a collaborative classroom help students understand the meaning of citizenship and contribution?  
  2. What routines could you use in your classroom to create a self-managed learning community?

Watch: “Community Faces: Humanizing the Immigrant Label”

When issues or conflicts arise, Crew leaders see an opportunity for students to engage as citizens of the community and contribute to a solution. Students move from advocating for themselves and their peers to advocating for others and for a more just and equitable community. Crew leaders must also be attuned to opportunities for students to use and hone their skills in an authentic way. When students themselves identify the problems they want to address, and when Crew leaders support students with structure, encouragement, and advocacy, students’ collective efforts can have a real impact.

A project conducted at the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC) in New London, Connecticut, is a compelling example. Sixth graders took on the topic of America’s pluralistic history by studying immigration in historical texts, followed by interviewing local refugees and immigrants to understand on a personal level the opportunities and challenges of immigration to the United States. Students used the rich stories of their interviewees to create multiple products: a professional-quality photographic exhibit that toured the state; a series of websites with background on each immigrant; and a printed book that celebrated the courage and contribution of the immigrants who were their local experts. Watch this video about the project and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How did teachers support students to engage with this challenging topic and learn the skills they needed to produce high-quality work?
  2. What impact did the project have on students? On their community?

Watch: “Contributing to a Better World”

EL Education schools create remarkable student achievement while cultivating character so students can contribute to a better world. In Crew students develop both the ethic and the skills to serve their communities.  Watch this video which illustrates a service ethic in three different schools and reflect on the following questions:

  1. How does the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to their communities motivate and engage students?
  2. What opportunities for service are available in your community, especially with organizations where you or your school already have a connection?

Dig Deeper

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers…

  1. What opportunities exist in your classroom and school for students to contribute and lead?
  2. What skills and tools would students need to conduct a successful service project?
  3. How could doing service in Crew change the culture of your classroom and your community?

For School Leaders…

  1. Can you  model an ethic of crew and service among students by conducting a service project with your staff?
  2. How can you support staff to conduct service work with their students or their Crews (e.g., consider communication tools, partner relationships, and schedule flexibility)?
  3. How can you leverage school celebrations or traditions to honor students for service and leadership?