“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Rosa Parks – Self-Awareness
Should we be a role model for others?
When we are being watched by others, we are compelled to do the right thing and that benefits the world. Being a role model has inherent value, but it is a difficult job that comes with significant sacrifice. It means that sometimes we can’t be ourselves and do what we really want. We must forgo our own needs to make other people happy. It’s hard to know when being a role model is worth it.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers from the United States with over 50 years of teaching experience – for a compelling conversation about self-awareness, enriched by the Teach Different Method.
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Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different. We’re veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method, which we model on this podcast for you. If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent who wants to use the power of conversations to build stronger relationships and fight polarization, stay tuned to hear the impact our method can have on your discussions. Then join our Community of Educators at teachdifferent.com for additional resources and to participate in lively conversations among teachers and faculty, free for 30 days.
Dan Fouts 00:29
Hey, everybody, welcome to the Teach Different podcast this week. We are very excited to have a quote today from a pioneer of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks. We’re celebrating Black History Month this February, and this quote fits nicely with that period. To remind everybody about the Teach Different method, we start with a stirring quote, and then we interpret it using our own words. We’ll give you some ideas on how you can bring this quote and conversation into the classroom with your students. You can have the kids tell personal stories about what the quote means to them. It’s important for the students to agree with the quote. After that conversation, it’s time to push against the quote with a counterclaim. Again, think about how you can encourage students to share stories in their exploration of the counterclaim. Then, we end with an essential question. Let’s get started with our Rosa Parks quote on self-awareness. “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Steve, what’s your take on this?
Steve Fouts 02:20 – Claim
Always check yourself. Don’t get too selfish or too self-absorbed. Think of your own life as something that you can model for others. Imagine that somebody is always looking up to you, like a younger brother or sister. Every decision you make, every action you take, is under scrutiny. You have to think about other people when making decisions for your own life.
Dan Fouts 02:58
You have to be focused on other people, like you’re being watched. When you are watched, you behave differently than when you’re alone. The quote is conveying the idea that other people are watching your behavior. I have to share a personal experience I’ve been having this year at school. This is part of teaching during the pandemic. Everybody is kind of off their game, off their routine, and they’re having a difficult time. Students are getting to class late. This is something I’ve never really experienced in my career, until the last few years. I’ve always told kids who come in late that other students are watching them. They’re seeing their behavior, and they’re taking cues on how they should behave based on how you behave. In a very simple, basic way, I think that conveys this idea that they are being watched like a role model. Showing up on time, doing your work on time, being nice to people, being respectful, has a lot of power that they don’t recognize, but I think kids really need to know that.
Steve Fouts 04:28
If it convinces them. Not all will be convinced that they have influence over their peers and think that they have to make sure they don’t break the rules because others are following their lead. I was thinking about it from the perspective of a teacher. We have to be hypersensitive about our reactions to things and how we handle conflict. How we handle relationships, the words we choose, how we react to someone else’s accomplishments, and basically how we express our emotions are always on display in a classroom.
Dan Fouts 05:25
Yeah. That’s being a teacher.
Steve Fouts 05:28
That’s what it is. You reap what you sow. Your classroom becomes an extension of your personality. Hopefully, you’ve made choices that will make your classroom successful, but it’s tough. Teachers are human beings. How does a teacher manage when they just don’t want to be in the classroom one day? Teachers are on another level. When you’re talking about the peer dynamic, that’s when it gets interesting.
Dan Fouts 06:09
But, I think it’s really important to think about our role as teachers. I would argue that it is to help students understand the consequences of their behavior that they are unaware of. When you’re growing up, you tend to be self-centered. You’re not interested in other people. You think your actions are just your own actions, and that they don’t impact the world. That’s what goes through the minds of many young people, and some older people, too. This is an open thought about how to teach. I think Rosa Parks is sharing a really important piece of wisdom, that we must live our life as a model for others. It’s the best way to live for many reasons.
Steve Fouts 07:08
It is. Well, you’re the father. You’ve raised two kids. I don’t have any kids. So, what would you say? How is that experience? How does that experience inform this quote for you? Does it make it more believable?
Dan Fouts 07:30
Absolutely. You’re a model for your kids, whether you want to be or not. Back to your point with teachers. We’re in a situation with students, whether we like it or not, where we’re being watched. It’s five times more intense being a parent, because you can’t escape it. I think with parenting, there’s more at stake in a certain sense. When we’re teaching the bell rings, and you’re liberated from their presence, but with parenting, you have them no matter what. In that sense, your responsibility to be a role model is heightened, which is both frightening and exciting. At the same time, it’s incredibly rewarding and incredibly frustrating. Elementary teachers might push back on that comment, because they have their class for the entire day.
Steve Fouts 08:47
There’s even a greater dynamic and need to model good behavior. It is an impossible balance sometimes for teachers. We are fallible human beings. We are not perfect. We have limitations. The kids probably know all of our weaknesses and our character better than we do. That shows that at least you’re trying, and you haven’t given up. You’re hoping for the best for people, and the kids pick up on that. It sets the foundation for any expectations you have for them. If you’re not modeling them, then good luck.
Dan Fouts 09:37
Yes, and also with mistakes, right? Parents make mistakes all the time. Teachers make mistakes all the time. I think Rosa Parks words apply just as well for those times when we screw up as parents or teachers. How do we respond to our mistakes? Then the model is not that I’m perfect, but that I screwed up and I need to apologize. Here’s what I did wrong. Here’s how I’m reflecting on it. Then your own kids, or your students, see you model failure, which is so important. Teaching and parenting are impossible jobs.
Dan Fouts 10:27
Yeah, and the model is never perfect. The model is how you deal with failure. That’s what you’re modeling, as much as anything else.
Dan Fouts 10:37
Let’s think about what the kids would talk about here? Maybe ask the students?
Steve Fouts 10:51
Has anyone ever looked up to you?
Dan Fouts 10:54
There you go.
Steve Fouts 10:55
Or, who do you look up to? That’s all you have to do.
Dan Fouts 11:00
Yeah. Who do you look up to?
Steve Fouts 11:02
Then you could get nuanced with that and ask something like, have you ever felt pressure when someone is looking up to you? You didn’t choose to be a role model, but you found yourself in a situation where you had to take responsibility for someone else. They’ll likely bring up brothers and sisters.
Dan Fouts 11:31
This could be a sensitive one, though. Some students may speak about their parents who are not behaving in ways that they want to emulate.
Steve Fouts 11:53
That’s why I think the sibling relationship is safer.
Dan Fouts 11:55
Yeah, siblings are safer.
Steve Fouts 11:59
You have to follow where the conversation takes you and where people feel comfortable sharing. I would recommend keeping it to siblings and peers, because they’re going to have more to say about that.
Dan Fouts 12:14
Teachers, of course, have to make the judgment for their classroom. Every classroom has a different dynamic. Depending on when you bring this conversation up during the year, and what kind of relationship you have with your kids, go with it? Well, what do you think the counterclaim is?
Steve Fouts 12:40 – Counterclaim
Live your life for yourself. Make choices that are best for you. Okay, it sounds selfish. I don’t think this has to have a negative vibe to it. You can justify it by saying if I’m happy and fulfilled, that’s important for other people to see. If you’re always worried about how you’re being perceived by others and making sure that others see you as trying to be perfect, then that can create a lot of pressure. That’s not healthy. Worrying about being a role model is not the best thing at all times. I think when you’re you, people like you more.
Dan Fouts 13:55
What you said about pressure nails it. If you’re constantly under pressure to be a role model, denying your own desires and feelings, then that’s not a healthy way to live. I’m going to the counterclaim. I’m almost agreeing with this just as much. I know a lot of people who are people pleasers. They want to be the model for everyone else, but you can tell that deep down, they really don’t feel comfortable in this role. Truth be told, I fall into this sometimes. I won’t say what I really think because I want to maintain a decorum and a diplomatic face when I should just give my opinion and be frustrated. People would probably respect me just as much.
Steve Fouts 15:03
I’m thinking about how I’ve dealt with this personally. I think I follow the counterclaim more often than the claim. Maybe it’s a little bit of selfishness, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to go after the things that are important to me, or to take care of myself first, but, at times, it probably has gotten me into some trouble. I’m probably being perceived in a negative way, because I don’t seem to be worried too much about being a role model to anybody. I’m just kind of being Steve. That’s on a personal level. What will the students say about this counterclaim? How many would side with this idea of let me just be me? I think you’re going to get plenty.
Dan Fouts 16:16
I think many students are going to make a good argument that they should take care of their own issues and problems. Life is hard enough. Why try to be the standard for other people and pile on additional responsibilities and stress that nobody needs?
Steve Fouts 16:43
I’m thinking of the leadership dynamic with peers. The leader in the room is often not the one who’s always trying to be a role model. I’m not saying they’re not respected by other students, I think that they are, but there’s another leadership dynamic. If somebody is being themselves. They’re having fun, and not taking things too seriously. They might be a little reckless, but people follow them, because they see their happiness. In that sense, you are being a role model. Maybe that feeds into the claim more than the counterclaim. What’s the question you could ask a student for a storytelling prompt? Do you look up to someone who you wouldn’t call a role model if you were asked, but you want to be their friend? I don’t want to say the bad crowd, but do you hang out with the bad crowd?
Dan Fouts 18:16
I think you should focus on asking them about the times in their lives when they relied on themselves, when they didn’t look for role models. Do you think you should live in a singular way and do things the way you want? What are some examples from your life when you don’t need or want role models? Maybe role models aren’t even healthy for you.
Steve Fouts 18:50
What do you love doing when no one’s looking? There you go. That’s your passion. That would bring it out. I think you’re right. The kids would be more appreciative, and acknowledge that doing something you love is important. People want to see other people passionate about what their doing. It’s inspiring.
Dan Fouts 19:23
But you do it alone, for your own fulfillment. You’re responsible for your own behavior and your own passions, and it has nothing to do with other people looking up to you. I think they can connect with this. I was thinking of this as you were talking before, a lot of kids, at least in my high school, care for their younger siblings. Many speak of the struggles and responsibilities of having to be a role model at a young age for younger kids. Many say, I just want to do what I want. I feel like I’m growing up too fast. I think certain kids, depending on your class and the family situation of the kids in your school, might tap into the roles they play as almost surrogate parents.
Steve Fouts 20:32
You know, I’ve never thought about this, but this is where our teaching experiences are very similar. The students I was teaching in Chicago had a lot of responsibility. Some of them had a lot of responsibilities early. That’s a tough burden.
Dan Fouts 21:00
At my school, I have a lot of first generation immigrant families. The kids know English really well, but their parents do not know English, so they assume a lot of responsibilities in the household to manage their family, both in child care and taking care of household business.
Steve Fouts 21:29
There’s definitely testaments to bring out with this.
Dan Fouts 21:34 – Essential Question
I think we treated the claim and the counterclaim really well. I started this conversation thinking that I was going to completely agree with the claim, but now I think I’m equally committed to the counterclaim. Well, here’s an essential question you can use to end this conversation. Should we be a role model for others? Your students may come up with a good question during the conversation, so be on the lookout for that.
Steve Fouts 22:02
Should we be a role model for others?
Dan Fouts 22:16
Every kid would answer that differently.
Steve Fouts 22:19
I remember when Charles Barkley said I am not a role model and it got so much attention. That’s really the counterclaim.
Dan Fouts 22:31
It’s a good question to leave your kids with. Self-awareness is our theme for this conversation. This will make them more self aware. It’s important to help students think about their behavior, about the impact they’re having on others, and how to be themselves versus how to be a role model for others. It makes them more self aware.
Dan Fouts 23:05
All right. Well, thanks, everybody. This was great. We’re looking forward to next week’s conversation. Take care and bring this to the classroom.
Dan Fouts 23:15
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and have a sense of confidence that you too can master the art and science of conversations to make a lasting impact. We at Teach Different are dedicated to supporting you along that journey. Please visit teachdifferent.com to join our Community of Educators for additional resources and engaging discussion among fellow teachers and administrators, free for 30 days. We’ll see you there and next time on the Teach Different Podcast, take care!