The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Being a Role Model

Due to recent events in the news, I have been thinking a lot over the past several days about what it means to be a role model. As I have followed different discussions through news networks, blogs, and social media, I’ve come to realise that most people have an idea that a role model is someone that others look up to and respect and, for that reason, seek to emulate. But as I have thought about it more, I’ve come to understand that that is just one type a role model. Specifically, a positive role model.

Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes around me has probably learned that I have spent a great deal of my life working in positive leadership programs with teenagers. I started as a participant in these programs as a middle school student when I attended an evening event called Snowflake in 1996. Then in high school I joined the Operation Snowball club and became a teen staff member, facilitating discussions among peers about leadership and positive examples. I also started participating with the Illinois Teen Institute in 1999, which also promotes positive leadership as a way of teaching teens healthy alternatives to risky behaviours, such as drug and alcohol abuse. The Illinois Teen Institute is now known as the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute, but the program is essentially the same. There have been a few scattered years that I have not been able to attend either my high school’s Snowball weekend event or the Teen Institute, but I have still been very actively involved in promoting the cause and it greatly affects how I teach and communicate with students, parents, and even colleagues.

There are a lot of different kinds of role models in our society. Some are famous, others are not. Some choose to be positive role models and others choose to make poor decisions and then claim that they never asked to be role models. They do not understand that one does not choose whether or not one is a role model; they can only choose what kind of role model they will be.

This is also so very true for my fourth grade students. They are not the biggest or oldest in the school, but they are close. They set an example everywhere they go! The younger students look up to them, both figuratively and literally. When they are walking down the hall and they see their first grade reading buddies going to the library, when they go down the hall to lunch and pass the students in the primary grades, when they are on the playground, and even when they are just in their own neighbourhoods, they are always setting an example. I am constantly reminding my students that they must decide whether they will set a good example or a bad example. All of them want to set a good example, even if they do make mistakes every now and then.

But what about parents and teachers? Are we thinking about the kind of examples we are setting for our students, our children? When we say something negative about school, about curriculum, about  policy, about each other, do we think about the impact our words have on them? Do we realise that they are always listening and always modeling us? Even when we disagree about an issue, do we think about ways to express our disagreement in ways that are respectful of others, or do we confuse people with policies? This is certainly something worth thinking about over the weekend!

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