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Empowering Students as Changemakers

December 1, 2021

Empowering Students as Changemakers


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For decades, youth in the United States have been leaders on issues from civil rights and educational opportunities to gun control and clean air and water. Youth activism is increasing, and young voices are pivotal to creating solutions to the injustices that keep their communities from thriving.

Educators engage youth as leaders every day. To support their efforts, the AFT, Share My Lesson, First Book, and the NAACP are collaborating on a campaign, “Stamping Out Racism and Hate,” to inspire student learning and activism. Many carefully curated resources are available; among them is a special AFT edition of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a young adult adaptation of Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning.

Below we highlight additional lessons and resources available in the Stamping Out collection to guide classroom discussions on these critical issues.

Human Rights

Beyond emphasizing the importance of dignity, equality, and fairness as foundational to a free and just society, educators can deepen students’ learning about removing barriers for vulnerable populations. Share My Lesson partner the Global Campaign for Education created “Lesson for All: Enhancing Global Competence” to inspire K–6 students to advocate for children around the world who do not have access to a quality education. For grades 6–12, Makematic’s “Take Action for No Poverty” uses video clips to explain the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030; in its Saving Empathy Project, students reflect on homelessness, hunger, and poverty globally and locally; they also co-create solutions for their communities.

Social Justice Issues

To advocate for human rights in their communities, students benefit from understanding how systems of social power cultivate inequity and oppression. The Anti-Defamation League created “Empowering Young People in the Aftermath of Hate” to help K–12 students process their feelings and take action following incidents of hate- or bias-motivated violence.

For grades 6–12, Blueshift Education debunks myths about undocumented immigrants and emphasizes their diverse experiences. In “Waking Dream,” students use short video stories of six undocumented teens to explore what it means to be American, witness the indignity of family separation, and consider the need for a path to full citizenship.

Storytelling is a powerful medium for exploring social issues and creating change. The 2021 Share My Lesson Virtual Conference webinar “Empowering Teen Voices and Changemaking Through Podcasts” highlights the “Genius Generation” of teens acting on issues such as climate change and the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. It also includes a free teacher webinar on using podcasts to empower middle and high school students to be changemakers for issues they’re passionate about.

Diverse Books

Developing an appreciation for cultural differences can help combat prejudice and inspire students to act against injustice. Seeds of Change tells the story of Wangari Maathai, activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and founder of the Green Belt Movement. The teacher’s guide (from the publisher, Lee & Low Books) gives interdisciplinary strategies for grades 3–5 to increase comprehension and inspire students to get involved in environmental preservation projects.

And for grades 6–8, a teacher-created unit on Alan Gratz’s novel Refugee explores themes of invisibility, perseverance, and hope in the refugee experience as narrated by three fictional survivors of the Holocaust, Cuban hunger crisis, and Syrian civil war. The six-week lesson plan features dozens of instructional and supplemental resources, including rubrics and printable worksheets.

These topics can be challenging, so you may prefer to digest some of the materials in the Stamping Out collection for your personal enrichment or in your professional learning communities before adapting them for your classrooms. If you have developed materials to engage students as changemakers, share your expertise with the Share My Lesson community by uploading your lesson plans (visit and click on the link in the upper right corner). Please reach out to us with any additional ideas or requests at [email protected].

Additional Resources: 

Share My Lesson

The American Federation of Teachers’ Share My Lesson is a free, award-winning community-based site that brings together educators, parents and caregivers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, specialized instructional support personnel, union and nonunion members, educational partners, an


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