Thursday, January 19, 2012

5 Strategies to Help Bring Humane Education to Schools

Humane educator in classroomWe have yet to hear of any situation where it wasn't possible to integrate humane education into the classroom - but that doesn't mean it wasn't without some creative and strategic thinking!  So whether you're a classroom teacher or community educator, here are 5 of the most useful strategies you can use to help ease the way for bringing humane education into schools:

    The easiest and most obvious way is to link humane education content to standards. With 45 states having adopted the new "common core standards" they serve as a useful means for integrating humane education into what you're already teaching. Even with strict requirements, educators can integrate humane principles and issues into their work. Teacher Alison Panik, who took our Teaching for a Positive Future online course, started integrating reverence for nature with her required math and science studies. IHE M.Ed. graduate, Christopher Greenslate, wrote an article highlighting how he integrated humane education into his teaching of language arts, including required books like Lord of the Flies. And IHE M.Ed. graduate, Kurt Schmidt has easily found creative ways to integrate humane studies into how he teaches math. If you're a community educator who wants to offer humane education presentations in schools, it's important to familiarize yourself with standards and highlight the strong connections between them and your content.
  2. LAWS:
    Many educators may not know it, but in several states, it's actually the law to include some form of humane education in their teaching (especially for younger students). Laws vary, but several states have some sort of legislation that requires teaching about the welfare of animals, character education, and/or environmental education. HEART keeps an updated list of laws related to humane education.

    And, last June, Maryland became the first state to require "environmental literacy" for graduation. Other states have varying requirements for environmental studies. Introducing humane education studies to your school(s) can help the district meet legal requirements.
    While we at IHE like to call what we do humane education, what label we use is not as important as the emphasis on the interconnectedness of human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation and on nurturing solutionaries. Some educators call it global studies; some say social justice; some just call it education. If there's something happening in your district that aligns with humane education principles and content, plug yourself into that. There are also other programs, growing in popularity in schools, that overlap with some of the elements of humane education. Such programs offer an excellent segue for introducing humane education issues and principles. Here are 3 examples:

    Character Education

    While fewer than half of states either mandate or encourage character education, many districts encourage teaching positive character traits. While character education itself follows a much narrower definition and vision, teaching about values such as responsibility, caring, and respect easily translates to exploring our impact on people, animals & the earth, and what we can do, both individually and systemically, to create a more just, compassionate world for all.

    Social Emotional Learning

    According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, Social & Emotional Learning, SEL, "teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically." Many schools are beginning to integrate some form of SEL into their curriculum, which provides a great connection to humane education.

    Service Learning

    Service Learning is another concept that's sweeping classrooms around the world. It varies in scope, but its core focus is bringing what students are learning in the classroom into the real world to address real-life issues and to help students become responsible citizens. Humane education is all about solving real-life problems, so service learning provides a terrific opportunity.
    If you want to start small, taking advantage of special school opportunities is a great strategy. If you're a classroom teacher, look for special school-wide events, like celebrations of Earth Day, World Water Week, No Name-Calling Week, or Be Kind to Animals Week to integrate humane education lessons. You may even be able to recruit your colleagues to tweak their own lessons. If you're a community educator, you can find special events as a means to plug in to schools; but also look for career days, speaker series, and other special events to offer yourself as an expert or resource.
    If you're a community educator wanting to get into schools, start by connecting with a friendly teacher who's doing humane education-related work in the classroom or community. Find out what s/he's teaching and customize accordingly. Offer to demonstrate a sample lesson and, if needed, to talk to the school administrator (districts vary as to how much control teachers have over issues like guest speakers). Once you've built one successful relationship, you can branch off from there. Word of mouth is very effective. If you're a classroom teacher, look for one other educator and invite them to collaborate with you on a small project or lesson that embodies humane education. Start with that small success and keep going.


"my top 10" signHumane education activities and lesson plans are just one of the perks we provide in our Resource Center. We now have more than 75 humane education activitiesavailable for free download, and we add new ones often. Here are our 10 most downloaded activities as of the end of 2011:

  1. Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged - How do our own stereotypes and judgments limit our openness and receptivity to others? This activity uses props (or photos) to explore our snap perceptions of others. (grades 4 & up)
  2. Don't Tread on Me - What is oppression? Who gets oppressed? Why don’t we all agree about that? Participants explore their own beliefs about oppression and learn about others'. (grades 6 & up)
  3. The World's Most Powerful Animal - Who’s the most dangerous AND the most powerful animal? We are! Lead students on an exploration of the positive and negative impacts our choices have on the planet. (grades 2-5)
  4. Human Rights for All? - This activity familiarizes students with the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and inspires them to think about the freedoms they enjoy that others cannot. (grades 9 and up)
  5. Two Apples - In this icebreaker, participants learn just how important words and actions are when they explore their impact on two apples. (All ages)
  6. A Moment in Their Shoes - How will students feel spending a moment in the shoes of a battery hen or a child slave? Use this lively and thought- provoking activity to introduce human and animal issues and the connections between them. (grades 6 & up)
  7. Analyzing Advertising - Students learn to be ad-savvy by exploring the pervasiveness of ads in their lives and by analyzing what ads are trying to sell…and trying to hide. (grades 5 & up)
  8. Whale's Stomach - Students learn about the impact of our "throwaway" society by exploring all the different kinds of trash found in a whale's stomach. (grades 4 & up)
  9. Word Power - Words have enormous power and often assign value. This activity explores sample words in context and what kinds of value those words imply. (grades 4 & up)
  10. Where in the World? - Students “shop” for T-shirts to help them make the connection between what they wear and the conditions under which it’s made. (grades 9 & up)


Two girls on nature hike looking at something interestingYou're passionate about humane education and want to start bringing it to your classroom or community, but you haven't developed lesson plans/activities (at least this kind) before. Don't worry! Here's a good place to start: with IHE's 15 tips for creating dynamic, effective humane education lessons.

  1. Take advantage of the wisdom that has come before. Look for relevant resources and lesson plans are already out there and adapt them for your own needs. There are organizations like IHE that offer comprehensive (as well as focused) humane ed activities, as well as organizations dedicated to animal protection, environmental protection, or human rights that provide terrific lessons and ideas.
  2. Find a support system and sounding board for feedback, collaboration, ideas, and contacts. There is no shortage of other humane educators, non-profit groups, and professional organizations that can help you.
  3. Educate yourself. You wouldn’t teach a foreign language without knowing it well. Be sure that you’re reading a variety of authors and perspectives, learning about the connections among humane issues, and keeping updated on news and changes in these areas.  (You can also take advantage of resources such as our Teaching for a Positive Future online course and get in-depth training with one of our accredited graduate programs.)
  4. Use what you're already doing and tweak it. If you're a classroom teacher, for example, take a lesson you're already using and modify it to include humane principles & issues. What elements of that novel lend themselves to exploring humane issues? Tweak those math word problems so that they reflect real-world concerns. Take that science study outside& pair it with nature reverence-building.
  5. Consider: What are your objectives? What will success look like? Have a clear plan for your lessons, but build in flexibility, back-ups and extensions (for when things run too short, too long, or just wrong).
  6. Start where your audience is. If people are struggling with urgent personal issues (e.g., homelessness, joblessness), they may not be interested in issues perceived as less immediate, such as global warming or animal cruelty, so start exploring how to inspire and empower them in their own situations, as well as working to build reverence and connection on a broader scale.
  7. Be careful about making assumptions about what your audience already know, or what they care about. Don't assume that just because you know (or care) about global warming or factory farming or child slavery, that others do, too. If you're unfamiliar with your audience, you can use online sources (e.g., the school's or group's website) to learn more about the culture, values, and concerns of your audience and tailor your lessons accordingly. You may also be able to visit ahead of time to help you gain insights into what they're passionate about.
  8. Integrate the 4 elements of humane education into your lessons:
    • Provide accurate (age-appropriate) information
    • Instill curiosity, creativity & critical thinking
    • Foster reverence, respect & responsibility
    • Offer positive choices & tools for problem solving
  9. Remember that humane education isn't indoctrination; it isn't about telling others what to think or believe. Humane education sparks curiosity and helps others think critically and creatively and make informed choices. There's a difference between asking your audience to think critically about what they believe, and telling them what they shouldbelieve.
  10. As often as is appropriate, reveal the interconnectedness of issues; tie in the impacts of what your audience is exploring with the environment, animals, and people. Everything is connected, so whatever the topic or issue, help people see how economics, poverty, climate change, consumerism, generosity, bullying, or psychology ties into doing the most good & least harm for people, animals, & planet.
  11. Use a variety of creative strategies throughout the lesson, including plenty of interactivity and focus on developing positive solutions. Especially for younger children, stories, songs, and drama/role play are great tools for introducing topics. Remember with all audiences to use stories, not just statistics. Studies show that people can get overwhelmed and lose interest with statistics and big numbers, and that it's easier for most of us to relate on a one-to-one basis. So start by talking about about one animal, or one slave child, or one family in one community affected by climate change.
  12. Tap into the wisdom of the group. Your lesson will be much more effective if you use the model of learning together, rather than setting yourself up as the expert to "teach" the uneducated. Give your audience opportunities to share their creative ideas and publicly explore and test their views. Give them power to lead, question, challenge, and develop positive solutions.
  13. Be sure that you're modeling your message. Do the materials you're using for the lessons themselves reflect choices that do the most good & least harm for all? Are you showing respect for your audience? Are you handling controversy or heated discussions effectively and compassionately?
  14. Practice practice practice. Especially if you're new to speaking in public or are offering a new lesson, practice. Give your lesson plans to a safe audience of supporters and have them give feedback. Videotape yourself and watch for ways to improve. Don't be afraid. Experiment!
  15. Evaluate and reevaluate. This is important, both during the lesson and after. If you're trying out a new lesson and it's crashing and burning, don't keep ploughing through. Stop and ask your audience what's not working (or at least try at different tactic). Your students will appreciate your honesty and thank you for respecting their time. If you're a community educator, be sure to have your audience complete evaluations and revise your lesson based on relevant feedback. Consider keeping a notebook to document what worked, what didn't, what you'd like to try again with some adjustments, the feedback you received, etc. One question you might ask yourself when you are reflecting on a lesson or presentation you've given is: If I were to give this same lesson tomorrow, what would I do differently?