Be the Change: Student-Led X-blocks

Mission matters. As educators, this is central to our work, but this year, that belief means more to me than ever before. This is an interesting time in our nation’s history. The days are unsettling. Many of us feel we don’t know what to say, what to do, or how to make a difference. But it strikes me that we—this amazing team of educators here at GUS—are among the lucky ones. We can nourish our hope for a better world every day by digging deeper and pushing farther to create the best learning environment possible for the future leaders who occupy our classrooms. We want to and can be the change.

Our objective to help young people act responsibly and work collaboratively as they pose questions and devise solutions, along with this year’s advisory theme of citizenship, informed our creation of this year’s X-blocks. We knew that, during advisory, we wanted to engage the students in a year-long dialogue about what it means to be “good” citizens. Still, we decided to go further, to use the X-blocks, which are student-centered activities in which the students become experts and the teachers are facilitators, to provide the students with meaningful opportunities to engage, as citizens would, in issues that are important to them.

We surveyed the students to find out what they cared about and discovered a wealth of passionate interests and valuable ideas. They were excited to have opportunities to really do something about issues they cared about. More importantly, they offered enthusiastic feedback about how significant it was to them that we had asked them what they cared about. Voice and choice are powerful motivators—the perfect way to jumpstart citizen activists.

The X-block activities our students proposed, like our students themselves, reflect a wide range of interests. Some groups are interested in global and national issues, ranging from global warming to endangered species to women’s rights to hurricane relief. Others chose to take on issues here at school, like homework, dress code, or an improved recycling program. Others are mapping the trails and exploring the viability of chickens on campus. The students are learning the importance of working together and staying focused to achieve a goal. They are figuring things out as they go. Some days are more successful than others, and some lead back to the drawing board. Perhaps the most important lesson they are learning is that it is totally up to them to bring about change.

A feature of our new X-block model is a series of three meetings at which all the students come together to present their work and engage in question and answer sessions. At these meetings, the groups work on their presentation skills, receive valuable feedback that can guide their work, and learn about the topics and activities of the other groups. The goal of each group is to produce a product (such as a pamphlet, poster, announcement, or campus change), suggest a solution to a problem, or prepare a plan for further action. At the completion of the X-blocks, families will be invited to a symposium to hear about the students’ projects. We look forward to hearing them report on their experiences of collaborating, of working to improve an issue that concerns them, and of pushing themselves to act as good citizens. The students will no doubt discover that it’s hard to bring about change, but, ideally, they will also come away from these projects with a powerful end product: hope.

Hope is what we gain as teachers too. Here at GUS, we don’t teach to teach, we teach to change the world, to make an impact, and to do our part in creating individuals who will lead us to a better time. I cannot help but wonder what a generation of students who all feel empowered would be like. The thought gives me hope, not only for the future, but also for each person’s ability to make a difference in the world now. You have to believe to achieve. Never has that been more true.

It has been incredibly rewarding to see our students inspired to bring about change, and I am reminded that I also have to do my part. I can’t just talk the talk, I have to walk the walk. My students and my own children are watching and I owe it to them to do what I can. While my heart broke as news of the Las Vegas shooting spread, my hopelessness was somewhat eased when I thought of my students working away in their X-blocks. These projects were inspired by a desire for action and a belief that we need to teach students to, as the saying goes, “be the change they wish to see in the world.” I realize that I need to follow their lead as much as they need to follow mine. When I feel the need for change, I can follow the guide we use in X-blocks. Question, research, and act—simple directions that can potentially solve complicated problems. May we, students, citizens, and parents, all find hope in the opportunity to do something, today and always.

UPDATE: January 4, 2018

X-block students researched the most effective and needed hurricane relief efforts to support organizations working in Irma and Maria-affected areas. In addition to a November bake sale that raised more than $300, #BeTheChange graphics and apparel items were designed by the group and are now available for sale using the Hurricane Relief apparel order form. Proceeds will go directly to relief efforts.

Gretchen Forsyth