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The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I assigned the following bellwork to my classes:

Finish the statement.

Courage is…

I gave them an example of what I was thinking, just to get them started. I remembered a hallway conversation with a colleague from the day before. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well, but made the decision to be here anyway. She had created a review game for the kids that would be difficult for someone else to step in and manage.

a teacher that is really sick coming to school anyway, because she knows that on her worst day, she can help her kids more than any sub.

Initially, the hands were slow to go up. In my opinion, it takes courage just to speak out in front of your peers, especially about a topic that doesn’t have a clear cut answer. Then, after a kid or two threw out an idea, it didn’t take long for most of the class to get involved in the conversation.

Students suggested I add the following:

Courage is...

someone that continues to motivate others even when they are struggling themselves.

taking action when they see others doing something wrong.

going above and beyond what you’re asked or required to do.

putting others before yourself.

standing up for what you believe.

going into the frontier of battle, risking your life for your country, allowing the rest of us to have freedom.

standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

using your words to solve a problem and not violence.

willing to try.

willing to sacrifice what you have for someone else who needs it.

standing up for what is right, even if you are standing alone.

facing your fears.

standing up for minority groups.

being happy for you.

saying no sometimes.

talking about controversy freely.

loving yourself, with your flaws.

being unafraid to lose.

It was nice to take a quick break from the math curriculum and talk with my students about this life skill. I was impressed with how well the students expressed their thoughts about courage. They all bring something different to the table with their own life experiences, and this has inspired me to have more meaningful conversations like this in the future.

-B. Gallagher

Jeff Carmichael is a Feature Teacher!
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