Students in an academy should have a steady diet of activities that inspire them. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished. Inspirational activities should be employed at the school level by building administrators during assemblies, morning announcements, and other times when students are assembled. Inspirational activities should also be employed by classroom teachers as transitional activities, short breaks, and other times deemed appropriate by the teacher. A selection of inspirational activities included in the Marzano Academy Implemenation Manual are listed below.
Movies can be inspirational for both teachers and students. When using movies to help inspire students, teachers should first provide an age appropriate context and purpose for watching the film. For example, a teacher who has decided to show the film Hidden Figures in class might begin the discussion by providing a brief review of American politics in 1950s and 1960s. For example, teachers might ask students to revisit what they know about the desegregation of schools beginning in Little Rock in 1957. The teacher might emphasize how challenging it could be for African Americans during that time to receive the upper level education the characters in Hidden Figures needed to have. They might also be asked to reread work they did on Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique. Specifically, they might be asked to think about how women’s restrictive societal roles might influence women of that time to break norms and rules. In addition to understanding the political climate the movie’s protagonists faced, the teacher might provide students with a brief background of women computers in the 20th century. Students might be surprised and interested to learn that women have a long history of working for the government in crucial, mathematically-centered roles.
When provided with such context, teachers can easily provide a purpose for the film by focusing on ideals. During the course of the movie, students might be asked to write down the messages, or ideals, they believe the film delivers. For example, students might find the following relevant and inspirational messages:
• Any person can achieve any goal they set through hard work and perseverance.
• The ability to work as a part of a team can be life changing.
• Setting an example by doing what is right can change history and create positive results on any project.
Stories can also be sources of inspiration for students. There are many stories both online and in print that can serve as sources of inspiration for students of any age. Additionally, many different types of stories can be used. For example, a middle school teacher might choose the myths described in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians fantasy series as a source of student inspiration. After reading the books at their own pace, teachers might ask students to compare some of the story lines to events in their own lives or other story lines they have seen in real life. They might be asked to think about how similarities between the stories speak to common human goals and inspirations.
Conversely, teachers might use nonfiction stories as inspirational sources. For example, a teacher might ask students to read I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Each student might be asked to articulate the ideals they find exemplified in her story of perseverance. They might also be asked to provide specific passages that support the ideal they find to be inspiring, and they might be asked to explain why they feel the passage relates to their own lives.
Quotations that are memorable are often explicit or implicit statements of ideals. In this way, they can be great sources of inspiration for students. Additionally, because quotes are generally brief, teachers can incorporate them into lessons in a variety of ways. For example, teachers might simply read or display a quote at the beginning of class and let students ponder its meaning or ideal independently. Or, they might accompany the quote with brief information about the person to whom it is attributed—that information would relate directly to a unit the teacher is teaching or has recently taught. The quotes can also be used to help students consider inspirational themes a teacher may have chosen, such as: perseverance, independence, or overcoming obstacles.
Depending on the situation, teachers can engage students in both long-‐and short-term projects that encourage altruism. Altruism can be defined as the principle or practice of helping others with no expectation of reward. Altruistic acts can help students understand how they can positively affect the world.
When focusing on altruism, teachers should be sure to refrain from rewarding students’ altruistic acts. Instead, after providing students with opportunities for altruism, teachers should ask students to simply reflect on the experience. Teachers can use the following questions to prompt reflection:
• How do you think your actions affected others? What is an example?
• What kind of insight do you think you gained from having positively affected someone’s life?
• Has anyone ever done something kind for you with no expectation of thanks? How did you feel then? How do you feel about it now?
There are a variety of ways teachers can provide school-based, altruistic activities. Many schools are coordinating volunteer days throughout the year that teachers can encourage students to take part in. There are also many nation-wide events that encourage volunteerism on a set date. For example, events celebrating Earth Day (www.earthday.org), Make a Difference Day (http://makeadifferenceday.com), and Pay it Forward Day (http://payitforwardday.com). Teachers and students can also volunteer for local organizations or design their own service projects that are based on the unique needs of their communities.
Empathy is another pathway towards a connection to something greater than the self. Empathy helps us transcend our habits of focusing only on our own lives. However, students often need guidance on how to understand and practice empathy. Teachers must begin by instilling in students the difference between empathy and sympathy. While sympathy merely refers to someone’s ability to offer condolences or feel sorry for someone, empathy refers to one’s ability to use his or her own experiences in a way that relates to another person’s experiences, creating understanding and connection on a deeper level.