Helping Students Become Their Courageous Selves

If your school is one that actively teaches character traits or values we hope courage is on your list. Yet, talking about courage or even reading stories about courage doesn’t always help students be able to use their own courage. Instead of focusing on heroism or bravery, we suggest framing courage as becoming your best self. You can share stories the stories that heroes tell after the event. It is common for them to tell their audience that it “was just the right thing to do.” Ian Grillot, who interrupted the shooting in Kansas City in 2017 is one of those heroes. From his hospital bed he said, “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”

Children face tough situations every day including: making new friends, giving a presentation in class, deciding how to stay connected with friends when they don’t want to join in an activity, as bystanders when other people are being hurt or for some, just getting to school. For some students, just showing up to school is courageous.   Here are some ideas to nurture courageous attitudes in the classroom:

  • Talk about courage using the frame that it is about being your best self, even when it isn’t easy to do that.
  • Write courage stories. Have your students write about what it means to be their best self and about a time where they were able to be themselves even if it wasn’t easy, or they were anxious or afraid.teacher girl notebook
  • Model noticing courage. You can write post it notes or quiet comments that start, “It took courage to _____ (ask for help, tell your friend to be more respectful, make a special effort to welcome our new student.) When you start noticing it, they will notice it with each other as well.
  • Help them see courage in their own lives. Invite a discussion about the courage it takes to say, “no” when the majority (or their friends) are saying “yes.”
  • Lift out acts of courage in the stories you and your students read. Examples are everywhere because that is part of what makes a good story. Biographies and memoirs are particularly rich, though they tend to elevate the idea of a “hero” which separates them a little from your students. Think of Simone Biles, Ruby Bridges, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln.