Connect with us


Teaching Human Rights: Resources, Benefits, And Guiding Questions



Teaching Human Rights: Resources, Benefits, And Guiding Questions

Teaching Human Rights: Resources, Benefits, And Guiding Questions

contributed by Chris Buckley, Featured Teacher In The Speak Truth To Power Master Class Series

When I am asked what I teach, my general response is not that I teach history or social studies; my days in the classroom are centered on teaching students. 

This approach to teaching is the legacy of the teachers who had the most significant impact on my career, both as a student and a professional. These teachers focused their energies on shaping me as a person by teaching me to be a more empathetic and engaged person. 

The teachers and professors whose classes I sat in spent time to help me grow as a person rather than simply measuring my command of content. Professionally, the colleagues I respect most see their students as individuals who are capable of reason and introspection, regardless of age. 

These teachers are human rights educators even though many of them did not teach about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the tragedies that define genocides such as the Holocaust, or the many activists who have bravely stood up for those whose voices were silenced or ignored. These individuals are teachers who do more than educate about: these individuals use their classrooms to educate for human rights. 

Human rights education builds awareness and understanding of the basic rights shared by all people: These principles are outlined in documentation from the United Nations and its affiliated associations. There are three distinct approaches to human rights education: education about, through, and for human rights. 

In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/137 which outlined human rights education as modelling these three tenets of Human Rights Education. While the youngest members of the global community should be taught about their rights and should have the opportunity to learn about the individuals who have stood up in the face of inequality, their educational experiences should be facilitated by individuals who model these principles themselves. 

Teachers who treat their students with dignity and respect represent the ideal of education through human rights. Most importantly, students should leave their classrooms empowered with the skills to exercise their rights as active and engaged members of their society so that when they are faced with instances of inequality, they are prepared to protect their rights as well as the rights of others. Teaching young people the skills of advocacy and engagement in the application and protection of their rights and the rights of others is education for human rights. 

The resources included in RFK Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power program provides me with more than the curricular tools to include human rights education into my classroom; the guiding principles of the initiative provided me the language to articulate the ideas that have been at the heart of my teaching philosophy. 

The resources included in the Speak Truth to Power program connect Robert F. Kennedy’s ideal of a ‘ripple of hope’ to specific practices designed to teach students not only about current human rights violations and the people who are fighting to protect the rights and dignity of their fellow man but also the skills necessary to become activists themselves. 

Speak Truth to Power shares the stories of Human Rights Defenders around the world, and provides teachers with standards-aligned resources and professional development tools, like the Master Class Series, to incorporate human rights education in the classroom in a way that is relatable and engaging for students. 

The Master Class Series highlights the importance of human rights education and different methods through which they can be included into classrooms and school buildings. The ideas of three of these RFK Lead Educators help to frame the benefits of human rights education.

Three Benefits Of Including Human Rights Education In Class

1. Prepare students to own their future

“As an educator, my job isn’t to change my students’ minds, but to give them a wide lens to view the world, and empower them to make their own decisions.” – Christopher Buckley, Social Studies Teachers at Brookfield High School  

The College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards was developed to give state education leaders a strategy to strengthen social studies programs. 

The C3 is driven by five guiding principles:

  • Social studies prepares the nation’s young people for college, careers, and civic life
  • Inquiry is at the heart of social studies
  • Social studies involves interdisciplinary applications and welcomes integration of the arts and humanities
  • Social studies is composed of deep and enduring understandings, concepts, and skills from the disciplines. Social studies emphasizes skills and practices as preparation for democratic decision-making
  • Social studies education should have direct and explicit connections to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

As a social studies teacher, Mr. Buckley realized that the C3 framework aligns with the principle of education for human rights education in many ways. The content found in Social Studies curriculums helps students understand the purpose of why they’re here. A thorough command of the events that define a student’s local, state, national, or international community allows them to add context to the perspectives held by those around them. 

In being exposed to education about specific events, students are presented with building blocks that can make them empathetic, engaged, and active members of their communities. This concept is at the heart of the C3 Standards, whether a student is considering a path to higher education or the professional world. 

Students exposed to the principles of human rights by teachers who embody the principles themselves can bring their experiences into new classrooms or the workplace, creating more inclusive and supportive environments for the next generation of learners.  

Human rights toolkits have helped Mr. Buckley successfully translating the importance of including human rights education across subject areas to administrators. The connection between the education for human rights and the C3 Standards provides a powerful connection to the importance of the skills inherent to teaching human rights across all grade levels and disciplines.

For Mr. Buckley, Speak Truth to Power’s educator resources have been helpful in facilitating productive conversations with both colleagues and students.

2. Make learning authentic

“In my classroom, it’s happy chaos. It’s loud, creativity is happening and learning is happening.” –Estella Owoimaha-Church, Theater Director at Hawthorne High School

Estella Owoimaha-Church’s instruction is led by ‘mirrors and windows.’ a phrase initially coined by Emily Style as part of the National SEED Project. As explained by WeAreTeachers, a mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that offers you a view of someone else’s experience.


Ms. Owoimaha-Church uses human rights-based activities to make learning authentic, relatable and engaging for all of her students.

“Children deserve to see themselves in everything they study, and gain an opportunity to view others in an authentic way,” explained Owoimaha-Church. “Giving students the whole picture and context during class, and making sure they see themselves, their history and their heritage in a story is an important part of being a teacher.”

According to Ms. Owoimaha-Church, “the power and motivation to be inquisitive and curious about the world comes from within, and it can only happen when students feel connected to the learning process. When learning is authentic, students will be resilient and push through challenges.”

Ms. Owoimaha-Church also uses the rules of improv comedy to guide the learning process:

  1. Don’t Deny
  2. Watch Each Other’s Backs
  3. Make Sure Everybody Looks Good

Using those tenets, students are encouraged to trust and respect one another, and ensure everyone’s voice is heard and elevated. Each year, students produce a play, ‘Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark’. The show focuses on several Human Rights Defenders, sharing each person’s story. 

“Each Defender has gone through tremendous struggle, and sometimes that can trigger past trauma and pain because students can relate. But, those narratives also help inspire students to make a difference,” said Owoimaha-Church. 

Human rights education is a powerful way to make interdisciplinary connections. For example, a science teacher could embed the story of Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, in a lesson about environmental and social justice. 

“It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, as a teacher your job isn’t just to teach the content, it’s to serve kids,” said Ms. Owoimaha-Church. “Whether it’s in math, science or English, students should feel whole, loved and safe in the classroom – and free to be themselves.”

3. Bring empathy to education

“By definition, social work is a human rights profession, but to train our social workers to be Human Rights Defenders, we need to give them the skills to do so.” – Dr. Robin DeLuca-Aconi, Adjunct Professor at Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) breaks social emotional learning (SEL) into five core competencies: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and relationship skills.

These skills are all important to thrive in the workplace, school and other levels throughout society. Dr. Robin DeLuca-Aconi knows this well, and embeds lessons of SEL and human rights to prepare social workers for the real world.

“At the end of the day, it’s not enough to just talk about compassion and love, you also need the skills to get the job done,” said Dr. DeLuca-Aconi. “It’s not enough to say ‘just play nice’, you need the skills to make it happen.”

Dr. DeLuca-Aconi uses the stories of Human Rights Defenders as an introduction to human rights. “The narratives of Defenders are powerful and inspiring, and make important connections for students.”

Each Human Rights Defender is connected to United Nations human rights treaties, conventions and laws, with each Defender being attributed to what right they’re defending. 

“I have each student select a Defender whose story speaks to them, and ask them to connect which SEL competencies that Defender used to make their achievement possible,” said Dr. DeLuca-Aconi. “For example, Malala had to use social and self-awareness to overcome significant adversity, and I think it’s important that students make that association.”

Dr. DeLuca-Aconi has students sit in a circle during class, which helps facilitate more ‘human’ conversation. “Students are understanding each other’s experiences, and have an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes – I’m not teaching them, I’m awakening them to have empathy for other people’s experiences.”

7 Sample Questions For Teaching Human Rights

Here’s are a few sample questions for teaching human rights from one activity:

  • What is meant by the word ‘privilege?’ What is meant by the word ‘bystander?’ How are these words related? How can we use our privilege to protect the human rights of others? 
  • What impact has technology had on the fight for human rights around the world?
  • What role does an ‘us vs. them’ mentality play in the violation of human rights?
  • Why is caring the one of the most important parts of defending human rights? 

The Human Rights Defenders who’ve partnered with Speak Truth to Power are models that students can learn from. These Defenders are real people, my kids can write to them and it’s very likely they’ll hear back. My students were working on a project about child labor, and wrote an email to Defender Kailash Satyarthi, and were able to Skype with him. That’s something those kids will remember forever.

Human rights are inherent to a person’s identity and being, not something that should be given to you or taken away by governing authorities. Teaching human rights not only helps kids to recognize their individuality and power, but is also about teaching them to be able to talk to people with differing opinions, it’s about equipping students with the ability to have a human conversation.

Launch human rights in your classroom 

Human rights education engages and empowers students, helping them to recognize and value their own power in making a difference, as they become the next generation of human rights defenders.

Additional Resources For Teaching Human Rights

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives




The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”




They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives
pay for an essay to be written

Continue Reading


How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching



How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.


If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.


Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional


Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog:

Vicki on Facebook:

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet


A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

Continue Reading


18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning



18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.


X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

Continue Reading