Using a fresh start as a way to improve our work as social justice leaders
by Gabby Cushman
With the start of a new year in many places around the world, it’s common for people to set new goals. While many of these goals focus on improving our health, career, or lifestyle, it’s also helpful for activists to set social justice goals.
Whether you want to complete this as a family or with your class, consider taking some time to brainstorm social justice goals for yourself and your kids. If you’re unsure where to start with this activity, here are four tips for creating goals for young social justice advocates!
Note: Some countries and communities do not celebrate the start of a new year on January 1st or will recognize January 1st as New Year’s Day but hold their celebration on a date more significant to their region or culture. A well-known example is the Chinese Lunar New Year, which is held on January 22nd this year. Keep this in mind when planning your goals around the idea of a “new year,” and allow kids to adjust their goals based on when they celebrate the start of a new year.
Make sure their goals are realistic
Depending on the age range within your classes or families, it’s likely that not all kids will be able to have the same kinds of goals. For example, an older teen may want to participate in an individual volunteer opportunity sometime this year. However, younger children will have to volunteer with a guardian. Another kid may have a job and want to pledge to donate to different causes throughout the year, while a peer may not have expendable money available to them, so they can’t make that same kind of goal. Encourage your little ones to think about plans that will be realistic for them to complete. Maybe if they can’t volunteer or donate anything, they could strive to learn more about a specific community or issue they don’t know much about. There are many ways to become better social justice leaders, and not everyone has to follow the same path to improve.
Go for specific, measurable goals over vague ideas
It’s easy to say things like, “I’m going to educate myself on this issue more this year,” or “I’m going to volunteer more this year.” However, these kinds of goals are hard to follow up on and plan for due to their vagueness. Encourage your little ones to think about specific things they want to achieve in 2023. The best goals are the ones you can measure and break down into steps. Instead of saying, “I’m going to educate myself on this issue more,” they could say, “I’m going to read a book, watch a documentary, and/or talk to a person about this issue.” Same for our volunteering example- push them to commit to a specific cause or organization. This way, we can also create a step-by-step process for our young learners to achieve their goals. What documentary do they want to check out? When can they make time to watch it? Do they have anyone to discuss the documentary with after they watch it? What further research can they do on this issue after the documentary? This is just one example of breaking down their goals into measurable objectives and will help them track their progress throughout the year.
Help them avoid focusing just on issues that personally affect them
The best piece of advice I ever received was from my high school English teacher. She told me that although I was a passionate advocate for communities I was a part of, I was often blind to issues that didn’t personally affect me. She believed I could do much more as an advocate if I also focused on communities outside of my experience. This was a harsh truth that teenage me needed to hear, and it was crucial to improving myself as a social justice advocate. With your own little ones, you want to ensure the social justice goals they’re setting are expansive and inclusive of issues outside their personal experiences. If your student is part of the LGBTQ+ community, for example, they may default to setting goals around that community because that is comfortable for them. Encourage them to also think about causes that may affect a different community they could learn more about this year. Remind your young advocates that this is an opportunity to grow as social justice leaders, and expand their usual advocacy to include additional issues or communities. Also be sure to remind them that if they don’t know much about a community, the best thing they can do first is learn.
Set “checkpoints” throughout the year to see how their goals are going
It’s notoriously known that new year's resolutions are often broken. Hold each other accountable by planning specific intervals for check-ins where you discuss (as a class or family) the actions you’ve all taken to reach your goals so far. Brainstorm ways you can all continue to push yourselves through these resolutions or talk about what you’ve learned so far that’s helped you grow as an advocate. Remember that it’s vital for you to set your own social justice goal for the year so you can check in alongside your little ones. If you participate with them, it will encourage them to take their goals seriously so they can share with you how they’re going and hear how your goals are going as well.
Setting goals for 2023 is a fun way to kick off a brand new year of social justice learning for you and your little ones. Whether you’re setting these goals now or later, we can all celebrate the work we plan to do to become better advocates.
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