Leverage role models [I-3]

Role models can actually drive student achievement if they:

Appeal strongly to students’ self-identities

Promote persistence and academic success

  • Coach guest speakers to focus on the desired messages
  • Connect role models’ persistence and success to the lives of your students
  • Seek role models based on the messages you want to convey, not vice versa

Are involved frequently and meaningfully

  • Engage your students with role models often
  • Ensure students understand and appreciate role models’ stories in a meaningful way
  • Consistently reference role models’ behaviors

Who can be a role model?

  • Fellow students in the class
  • Older students in the school
  • Family members
  • Community members
  • Teachers and other faculty members
  • Historical figures
  • Athletes
  • Fictional characters

Illustrations are grouped by the proficiency that they best bring to life.

We would like to communicate our deep appreciation to these teachers who are allowing us to learn from their experiences.


In the effort to locate, successfully invite, and nail down logistics with a guest speaker we can easily lose sight of one important question: what is s/he going to speak about? While a guest who spends an hour telling exciting stories from the field as a construction foreman might be entertaining for your students, this presentation won’t have as powerful an impact on student achievement as it could if the speaker’s message was more focused on the importance of hard work and academic success.


When first contacting a potential role model to serve as a guest speaker in the classroom, either by email or letter, spell out the two primary messages you want her/him to focus on in their presentation: the importance of hard work and persistence, and the importance of academic success. Be sure to communicate the purpose behind focusing on these two messages. Then, a few days in advance of the actual classroom presentation, schedule a phone call or in-person meeting with your guest to discuss the specifics of their presentation. Be prepared to offer examples of how previous guest speakers have promoted persistence and academic success by sharing concrete examples in their presentations, and don’t be afraid to ask directly for a rough outline of what your speaker is planning on saying.


Initially, we may think that “using role models in the classroom” means hanging pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the wall, and inviting the town mayor to address to the class during a social studies unit. While these efforts can be a step in the right direction, by themselves they won’t result in a significant impact on student investment.


In order to involve role models meaningfully in the classroom, you must engage your students with them frequently throughout the school year. This can occur in a number of different ways: bringing role models to your classroom on a regular basis – i.e., 6th grade reading buddies working with 1st graders once each week; regularly incorporating historical or fictional role models in each unit through re-occurring research and writing projects; and regularly celebrating role models in the classroom – i.e., each Monday inviting the "Top Student" and "Most Improved Student" from the previous week to address the class on how hard work resulted in their success.


We can sometimes interpret using “role models” as meaning that we must bring a major celebrity or professional athlete into their classroom. This belief can lead to several outcomes: we either feel overwhelmed by the effort necessary to bring in a celebrity/athlete, and therefore end up not involving role models in our classrooms in any way; or, we do put in the tremendous amount of time and energy required to bring in a celebrity/athlete guest speaker, but to the detriment of the rest of our teaching responsibilities.


Explore the variety of potential role models that are easily within your grasp, and potentially just down the hall: the main character of the book your class is reading, your highly-respected principal, and your students very own parents, for starters. Sara Egli (’05 Phoenix) comments on what it was like to crawl out of this common pitfall: "I realized almost over night that using role models did not mean that I had to convince Steve Nash to come hang out in my classroom and talk about how cool school is." Sara went on to make frequent and meaningful use of her former students, 6th grade reading buddies, and a 5th grade honors math class as role models for her 1st graders – and she did so without spending exorbitant amounts of time and energy. Click here for more detailed information on how Sara Egli used role models in her classroom in a powerful yet sustainable way.

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