Edward Best Staff

Introducing Elementary Teachers to Humane Education

by Elizabeth O. Crawford, Ph.D.

with Claire Roehl, M.Ed.

Speaking at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden declared: “For me, being a teacher isn’t just what I do — it’s who I am. These issues are personal to me.”

Like Dr. Biden, I believe that the teacher’s role is not limited by our context, including position, place of employment, or content area of instruction. Being a teacher is personal; it reflects our core values and deepest desires for the future of our complex, interconnected, and shared world.

I am a third generation educator with 17 years of teaching experience, nine of which have been in higher education. I am currently a teacher educator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where I specialize in social studies methods and global education. During my years as a teacher, I have worked with a range of students—from kindergarteners to non-traditional post-graduate students—in a variety of settings in the southeastern U.S. and abroad.

Although the students and contexts may change, what remains constant is who I am as a humane educator.

Finding Humane Education

I first learned of humane education in 2011 when I stumbled upon Institute for Humane Education co-founder and president, Zoe Weil’s, TEDx talk “The World Becomes What You Teach.” More than any other message, it has transformed the way I view my role in supporting the personal and professional development of current and future teachers.

I aim to inspire my elementary education students to infuse the tenets of humane education in their curriculum, no matter the educational context.

Helping Teachers Embrace Humane Education

Each semester, I witness my students applying a variety of strategies to bring humane education into the elementary classroom. For example, my graduate students implement original humane education lessons in partnership with school classrooms, culminating in school-wide “taking action” projects.

Last year, UNCW students and alumni broke ground on a school pollinator garden, taught children about endangered elephants, gave presentations at a state energy summit and global education seminar, and published global collaborative projects on the popular teacher blog, Kid World Citizen. Each of these actions was inspired by exposure to the tenets of humane education and the work of the Institute for Humane Education in particular.

Since infusing humane education into my teaching (and personal life), I have forged strong partnerships with classroom teachers who then bring humane education into their schools.

Bringing Humane Education Professional Development to Schools

On March 7, 2016, UNCW alumna and 2nd grade teacher, Claire Roehl, and I delivered a 1-hour, 15-minute professional development session, entitled “An Introduction to Humane Education: Solution-Focused Global Teaching and Learning,” at her school, Edward Best Elementary, in Louisburg, North Carolina.

Edward Best’s motto is “A Place to Belong, Serve, and Grow!” which is immediately evident when entering the school grounds (or exploring the great teaching and learning shared on their school Twitter page)! Claire received her M.Ed. in Elementary Education at UNCW where I taught her in two online courses in which I integrated humane education principles and practices. Inspired by Institute for Humane Education resources, Claire and I have co-presented at state and national conferences on our collective efforts to bring human education into the elementary classroom.

In order to develop foundational knowledge of humane education, Edward Best staff were asked to watch Zoe Weil’s TEDx talk, “The World Becomes What You Teach.” as well as to read What is Humane Education? and “Educating a Generation of Solutionaries,” prior to our session.

The focus of our time could then be spent providing concrete examples of strategies and resources elementary educators may use to empower students to become conscientious and engaged changemakers (all the while addressing mandated content area standards).

First, we asked teachers to reflect on their initial thoughts, ideas, and questions regarding humane education, using the 3-2-1 Bridge thinking routine from the text Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Interdependence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. This strategy affords self-reflection and allows participants to identify whether and how their thinking has changed following a learning experience.

true price

Following a discussion of teachers’ initial reactions to the video and articles, we modeled the IHE True Price activity, using our clothing as a concrete item for exploring the interconnectedness between human rights, animal protection, and environmental stewardship. As teachers walked around the room and inspected the shirt labels of five or more colleagues, they commented on the versatility of and value in such an exercise for their own students.

The remainder of our session focused on our global food system, including the human, animal, and environmental impacts caused by the production, consumption, and disposal of food. Claire and I used a variety of resources to demonstrate appropriate ways to introduce food system issues and solutions to young children, including:

We modeled the use of other thinking routines, such as Think-Puzzle-Explore, that can be used to introduce a humane education concept or topic in any grade level.

Finally, Claire explained to her colleagues how she has used these resources in her own second grade classroom. Last year, her students learned about the specific issue of world hunger and participated in the Rice Bowl Challenge and the Zero Hunger Challenge. Students learned how world hunger is also a local problem (as NC has among the highest rates of child hunger in the nation).

To close, we encouraged teachers to identify young solutionaries as teaching resources: those children who strive to make the world more just and sustainable for all. In our own state of North Carolina, Birke Baehr is an international speaker on the dangers of our industrialized food system and an advocate for sustainable food and agriculture. His children’s book Birke on the Farm and TEDx talk “What’s Wrong With our Food System” underscore how a curious and concerned eight-year-old can be part of the solution.

Zoe Weil joined us via Skype at the conclusion of our professional development session to engage with our teachers about how to apply what they had learned in their own classrooms.

Teachers’ post-reflection 3-2-1 responses will structure part two of this blog post, when I’ll share Zoe’s answers to the most commonly asked questions posed by elementary educators, such as How do you implement (humane education) without creating more work? and How do we teach in a way that does not burden the kids?

Stay tuned!