Bringing community into the classroom

One of my aims as a teacher is to bring the community into the classroom – exposing students to the many different types of careers and activities they could participate in. In doing this, I hope to give them something to prepare for and a strong reason to engage in their education.

This year at Melrose High, I have begun to turn this aim into a reality, testing out what community engagement is possible. This post highlights three key examples, guest speakers, regular classroom volunteers and structured programs with community organisations.

Through my role as a classroom teacher of SOSE (history, geography, business and civics), I have organised a range of friends as guest speakers for Year 7 and Year 9 students. From a Colonel with the Australian Army, to the owner of a local start-up, or a volunteer with the NSW SES – each speaker has had a positive impact on the class.

Army

Students are most interested and engaged in subjects that they can see are relevant. Guest speakers help to make this real world connection to what we are learning in the classroom. They provide different perspectives and even a bit of inspiration for some students.

While not everyone in the class ‘lights up’ for the speakers, at the end of each presentation I always see a small group of students excitedly asking questions and wondering if they could do something similar when they finish school. For me, this makes the organisation worth while.

Seeing the positive reactions to guest speakers lead me to reconnect with organisations like ANU Debating, Oaktree Foundation, UN Youth and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and to ask them to come into my classroom. The energy and ‘buzz’ in a room when young volunteers come in to facilitate a lesson is amazing.

While I am still working out how to consistently arrange guest speakers to fit within the SOSE curriculum, I’m excited by the possibilities I have see already.

I have also also been working with the organisation I founded, Raising Hope Education Foundation, to develop and assess a new initiative this term called ‘classroom mentoring’. This program recruits university students to volunteer with a teacher 1-2 hours each week over the course of a year.

In four schools, these volunteers are working alongside teachers like me to provide additional support for students who need it. They have facilitated workshops, helped students with assignments, assisted with lab work in science, enabled teachers to demonstrate conversations in French and added some colour and diversity to the classroom.

This is another example of how the community can support our students to succeed.

RHEF

Alongside this, it has been exciting to be able to help organise a mentoring program with local university students through Raising Hope. I’ve seen the direct benefits for many of my Year 9 and 10 students who participate in the program.

The opportunity to regularly catch up with a mentor who is a similar age is genuinely appreciated by the students. Many have told me how useful they have found it planning for their future and just getting general life advice from someone who is friendly and is there as a volunteer just to help them.

While this post highlights some examples of how the community can support their local school, there are many more that I hope to explore. All it takes is passionate educators with the time to engage with those who are already eager to support what we do.

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