The ‘Why’ of Citizenship

Implementing Citizenship in schools does not happen automatically. What is missing is a positive and motivating story. By sharing the ‘why’ of citizenship in clear language, you encourage ownership by both student and teacher. Contribution to Van12tot18, edition ‘Citizenship’.

In this blog, read our entry for Van12tot18, edition ‘Citizenship’ March 1, 2024 edition. The article is posted in condensed form in the “Reading Table” section. On our website, we show the original version:

The ‘Why’ of Citizenship

Implementing Citizenship in schools does not happen by itself. Despite the Expert Center for Citizenship and the wide range of support, the Education Inspectorate continues to issue corrective orders. What is missing is a positive and motivating narrative. By sharing the “why” of citizenship in clear language, you encourage ownership among both students and teachers.

Citizenship at school is a challenge

Despite the clear guidelines in the “Secondary Education Act” on promoting “active citizenship and social cohesion,” implementing Citizenship remains a challenge for many schools. How to do so is now clearly explained in various places. Consider the expertise point Citizenship and the many the providers who can help schools.
With such support, one expects that implementing the Citizenship core objective at school will come naturally. But apparently it does not. How else do you explain that many schools are still struggling to implement Citizenship? And that so many remedial assignments on Citizenship are handed out by the Education Inspectorate? Why doesn’t it come naturally?

Citizenship or else…

Citizenship seems mainly meant to solve problems. Apparently, we all feel that without Citizenship, children do not participate in school and society, or participate too little, or in the wrong way. Or maybe we think that of adults and hope to avoid that in the future. That there is too much conflict, short fuses and too little respect for each other. With that in mind, it makes sense to be strict about making sure that schools pick up on this and warn students to behave, because otherwise….
Unfortunately, a negative narrative is not encouraging to anyone, not teachers, not students. Implementation of the Citizenship core objective then becomes a very frustrating task.

The positive narrative

What is missing in all attempts to land Citizenship in schools is a positive story; the ‘Why’ of Citizenship. The ‘Why’ is a term from marketing coined by Simon Sinek. He showed that you must first make the why of a product clear before you ‘sell’ the how and what. And if you want people to be inspired, it must above all be a positive ‘Why’. No doomsday scenarios but attractive prospects and successes. So first the positive ‘why’ of Citizenship and then the ‘how’ of implementing and the ‘what’ of the content of the lessons. Only through an inspiring story does the engine for change turn on. Behavior change in this case, because we hope to positively influence the behavior of young citizens with Citizenship.

Inspire students

If you want students to apply citizenship knowledge and skills in their own lives, they have to want it themselves. Inspire them and tell them why citizenship is a good idea. For example, that in school you can practice to later participate in society. Because in a class you learn how to express your opinion in such a way that the other person wants to hear what you say. Or that you understand someone in class who is “different” from you. By making school more fun. By telling the positive ‘why’ of Citizenship, you encourage ownership and increase the likelihood that classroom lessons will create change in society. Or better yet, don’t just tell it but live it.

Show how you make the world a more beautiful place

You may not realize it, but even you as a teacher or school leader are a role model. Perhaps not by going to the barricades, but simply with small everyday acts. When you demonstrate how to give a student or colleague a sincere compliment and listen attentively to another person’s opinion. When you show that it is normal to think with each other. That you openly share your uncertainty about a troubled class, yet confidently carry on for that pleasant atmosphere. That you pass on your enthusiasm for a subject and show how you yourself still want to get better at it. Then you are a role model or maybe even an influencer!

Become a citizenship influencer!

As a teacher or school leader, you may not yet be completely satisfied with your own ‘exemplary’ nature. Being a role model begins with awareness of your role. When you see what role you have, you may make different choices. You say or do something or you don’t because you know what your influence is. As the well-known expression goes, “Improve the world, start with yourself. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. It means practicing and persevering and trying again and again. What helps is a common language, one imbued with a “from good to better” attitude. A language based on what has been proven to work. And above all, a language that is understandable and inspiring, both for you as a role model and for the students you inspire.

Not for nothing does the webapp we developed for students offer this common language. Through tools for measuring, discussing and developing, citizenship conversation is made easier and ownership is encouraged. So that a student not only knows how to do better, but also enjoys applying it in practice themselves. The matching encourages teachers, school leaders and parents to lead by example. Based on the same positive psychology principles and using the same plain language. Inspire for a better world and become a citizenship influencer!

Dr. Nicolet Theunissen is an entrepreneur and behavioral scientist, Wouter Nijhof is an entrepreneur and math teacher, together they bring en
Note: The Van12tot18 version can be read with a subscription to Van12tot18.