Other civic-engagement initiatives that teachers have planned for their students include visiting a local seniors’ home twice a month, holding a bake sale to raise money for mosquito nets in Africa, evaluating the accessibility of local businesses and posting the reviews online, and offering computer literacy and English-conversation classes to refugee families. Students learn about other religions through fostering buddy relationships with a class in a local Sikh academy and attending interfaith events. These activities can be used as a community-focused variation on more conventional projects, as one teacher explains: “While reading To Kill a Mockingbird, my students study a modernday injustice. They read about it in the news for a few weeks. In the end, instead of writing a traditional research paper about it, they write a letter to one of their politicians explaining the issue and suggesting specific actions that the government can take.” Through civic engagement, students get a sense of meaningful work, increase their awareness of the “other” and real-world issues, evaluate personal biases, increase their motivation, and learn practical skills.
Students visit a fish hatchery
A few times a year, teachers and administrators from other schools across North America visit Surrey Christian for professional-learning conversations about the work of civic engagement and teaching for transformation. The leadership team is also involved in planning a conference in which principals participate in discussion about civic engagement.
The Importance of Leadership and Professional Development
Professional development is an important component of Surrey Christian’s culture of civic engagement. The director of learning, whose responsibilities include ensuring that Surrey Christian’s curriculum design and pedagogy allow initiatives to be sustained over time, plays a significant role in the school’s professional-development programs. The school-improvement literature confirms the effectiveness of this type of leadership structure: having a dedicated director of learning in addition to a principal is an example of distributed leadership, which involves a team of educators sharing leadership responsibilities and has been linked to improved student outcomes (Bush and Glover 2012; Leithwood et al. 2007).