For the past five years, those of us at Choose2Matter have had the pleasure and privilege of helping young change-makers realize their potential, and yearning desire, to impact the world. From Downingtown, PA to McAllen, TX to Prince Albert, SK Canada to East Greenwich, RI and everywhere in between, students have decided how they want to change the world, and then done it.
Thus, we were just a little miffed this week at a letter from NASA to a 9yo boy who had applied for a job as a “Planetary Protection Officer,” noting that he is “young and can learn to think like an alien.” NASA expressed hoped that he would join them "one of these days" and urged him to "study hard and do well in school."
While this response was charming, artfully worded and widely acclaimed, we wish NASA had also provided the boy direction on how to begin protecting Earth now, rather than waiting until he grows up. As we have seen repeatedly over the past five years. kids desperately want to do work that matters - now.
Sadly, few schools guide students through the process of how to approach a problem, insist that change can happen, and make it so. Why is school not a place for invention, innovation, and world changing? How can we make the classroom a place that nurtures curiosity, creativity, and innovation?
For today’s students to become empowered, empathetic, innovative, collaborative and passionate change agents - who fully tap their potential to disrupt the status quo and transform our world - then we need our classrooms to be a place where students experience the change-making process. The video below, created by a fifth grader, is representative of what this can look like:
After scores of events such as that one, at schools all over the world and across all demographics, I can tell you unequivocally that all children can be inspired, equipped and mobilized to make a difference in the world, if they embrace the following lessons:
1. You Must Own and Share Your Genius
We begin every event with these words to students:
We do not say these words to make them feel good. We say them to challenge students to live up to their responsibilities as citizens.
Our talents and skills are not intended only to be used for our own good. They’re meant to be shared as an offering to the world. A gift in the truest sense of the word.
Next, we ask each student to ponder, “What is my genius?” The answering of this question holds out the promise of achieving both power and impact.
2. Vulnerability is Power.
Every student, teacher, mentor and speaker had the opportunity to tell their story.
We listened to story after story of failure, of fear, of humility, of embarrassment, of projects gone wrong, of an idea not turning out as planned or desired. Yet, time after time, these so-called “failures” were in fact life-defining lessons, teachings that led to a transformative experience, a new life purpose and hard-earned success. It’s only when we expose our darkest fears and our greatest mistakes that true growth occurs.
3. Don’t Follow Your Heart — Follow Your Heart Break
Rather than stressing about finding our elusive “passion,” we embraced an attitude of compassion. Operating much like its close cousin, compassion opens us up to feeling others suffering so we can make ourselves useful to them in their moment of need. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the word compassion derives from the Latin root com and passio, as well as the Greek word patheia. Taken together, this literally translates as “[to] suffer with affection.”
In a process we call “Heartbreak Mapping,” we strategically explored the suffering happening in the world and worked together to discover ways we could use our talents and genius to be useful to those in need.
4. Passion Matters
Who changes the world? People who are fiercely passionate. People who are passionate are unstoppable.
The world is changed by people who are fully and completely, relentlessly, sometimes unreasonably committed, to something. People with laser-like focus and a burning desire, who can break through brick walls and bound over obstacles.
5. Take Your Ideas Seriously — We Do
If students have an idea, however big or small or crazy or epic or ridiculous, we asked that they write it down, pursue it and most importantly, share it with others.
Sharing your idea and asking for help can change everything. We practiced sharing our needs and gives and used every new and emerging technology to ensure this happened.
6. You can’t do this alone. (Seriously, you CAN’T do this alone).
We are smarter together.
Anyone that’s built a thriving business or led a successful project knows this already. You need to surround yourself, or connect online with, people who make you fulfilled, that make you smarter, that support you when you succeed and love you when you fail, that constantly push you to be the best you can be.
To demonstrate the power of community, at every school we visited, we invited in entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, teachers, bankers, doctors, civic leaders (including U.S. Senator Jack Reed!) united in the pursuit of social impact.
When students understood that their community had their back, everything changed.
A student discusses his plan to change the world with U.S. Senator Jack Reed.
7. Dwell in Possibility
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” - Marianne Williamson
Realize the impact you could have. Embrace the possibility, the insane possibility that you can make a difference in the world. These are powerful possibilities that are difficult for an adult, let alone a high school student, to take seriously.
The moment students began to dwell in the possibilities, they were capable of so much more than they had given themselves credit for. This was the moment creativity was unleashed.
This new belief becomes contagious. And that’s when responsibility set in. Students started to realize their ideas, those possibilities are not just there to casually dream. They had responsibility to work collaboratively, honor all contributions and not let one idea or dream be held back.
8. Once you make an impact, you can’t go back.
I cannot tell you the joy I experienced watching these young learners and leaders working together as a community of intention, engagement, passion and love; with the mission of becoming their best selves, living the lives they were meant to live and creating positive social change.
I cannot explain the feeling of gratitude and pride I felt knowing that the work we did impacted the way students (and myself, and other mentors and staff) see their lives and what they are capable of achieving in this world.
And now that I’ve felt that, and having known 100 percent what it feels like day after day to NOT be making a direct impact in anyone’s life, I know we cannot go back to teaching and learning without meaning.
We refuse to. Until we can ensure these lessons are taught in every classroom, we will not rest or waste my time doing anything less impactful.
Which brings me to our last and final lesson.
9. Do Not Waste Time
You have permission to create, to speak up and stand up.
You have permission to be generous, to fail and to be vulnerable.
You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.
Do Something Epic — today. Now. This very moment.
The world is ready. The world is waiting.
When we asked students, which of these lessons was most valuable, this was their response:
Let’s change the world. Let’s help our students grow into the citizens the world needs them to be. Let’s do it in school. Welcome to Choose2Matter!
Below, two resources to help students become the citizens this world needs:
Genius Matters offers 30 lessons to help students discover and explore their genius and passion. Get the book today!
Our professional development course (with student materials) is a deep dive into Choose2Matter, including these lessons. It will help students figure out who they are, how they want to change the world, and then help them do it. It will transform your culture, and change learning and lives! Click here for more info or click here to registerfor the course!