Portrait of a Learner 9-12

Systems Change

Civic Mindedness

Factor Connections

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A learner's Civic Mindedness involves seeing oneself as a contributor to their community, being informed and empowered to help or include others, and joining with others to achieve common goals for the community. This means being attuned to, respecting, and beginning to identify the needs and goals (e.g. social or environmental issues) of the people in one's community while recognizing that they may be different from their own. It entails thinking critically about civic content knowledge (including social movements), about the democratic systems which govern learners' communities, the injustices and disparities these systems may create for themselves and others, and the process of thinking about and contributing to solutions. Adolescents' critical consciousness—their confidence and ability to reflect, engage, and act on social issues—is a source of empowerment, and can contribute to academic engagement and outcomes, especially for learners from historically and systematically excluded groups.

Main Ideas

Environments that allow time for open-ended discussion and activity with peers provide informal opportunities for civic actions, with students learning to form communal goals, care for each other, and resolve disputes. As students progress through school they begin to try out their civic participation in both formal and informal learning contexts. An open classroom climate can empower learners in shared decision making about their class. In addition, encouraging learners to question norms and supporting them with the language and opportunities to engage in difficult conversations about injustice can empower them as learners and community members, engaging and growing their Civic Mindedness.

A learner's Civic Identity is grounded in having a sense of self as part of a larger whole. A learner's exploration of their Identities and values is key to guiding their actions in their communities and developing Civic Mindedness. That is, learners must have both a sense of personal agency and self-efficacy, the ability and initiative to act, and Social Awareness of the other individuals in the community. With this they can begin to recognize the needs and opportunities of others in their community, a sense of responsibility, and the initiative to collaboratively effect change. This includes acting on behalf of others in one's community, as well as acting in Collaboration with others. When students are given the freedom to care for each other and their community, they also learn to live as a member of a community, fostering a Sense of Belonging. The development of Civic Mindedness in the classroom relies on establishing a sense of community and trust with teachers and classmates, and active participation in the classroom. Therefore it is important to consider the impact of "pull-out" vs. "push-in” services for students who need extra learning support-- including multilingual language learners and those with learning disabilities or ADHD as it may affect their ability to actively engage with their classroom community the same way as their peers.

Students' communities provide a natural context for learning that matters to learners, and so connecting the community to the classroom provides students a real world context to think critically and creatively to solve problems that affect them. As such, integrating community, for instance with service learning or youth action research projects, promotes active and inclusive engagement in the classroom, neighborhood, and the broader world.

Social Responsibility--a sense of obligation to contribute to the greater good--is a value that affects our beliefs and how we interact with others, and is a motivator of many civic actions. It is related to empathy, prosocial behaviors, and general care for others with an emphasis on positive social change. During childhood and adolescence, the developmental roots of individuals' social responsibility lie in the growth of cognitive skills, Emotion regulation, empathy, and Identity. In order to foster learners' social responsibility in their everyday lives, educators can model prosocial behaviors, communicate care and concerns for others, and provide opportunities to practice civic skills. In addition, parents, teachers, and schools should instill social responsibility in students through civic discussions and role modeling. In particular, adults should discuss the root causes of social issues with adolescents. Organized activities that include opportunities to take on leadership positions, work as a team, and connect with the broader community provide an excellent venue for high school students' civic character development.

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