Being a role model

Rosemary Dewan

Rosemary Dewan is the CEO of the Human Values Foundation which promotes the importance of teaching human values in schools. Since 1995 it has been providing practical, cross-curricular programmes for personal development and behaviour management, integrating SMSC, PSHE education, Citizenship, PLTS and SEAL.

Follow @HVF_Values

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Considering that any person who serves as an example and whose behaviour is emulated by others is a role model, the big ask is: What kind of attitudes are young people learning from us? Which skills are they developing from us? What knowledge are they gaining from us?

With a new academic year just over the horizon, the summer holidays could be a particularly good time for personal reflection and development, and consideration about how we can consciously motivate young people to make the most of their rich education opportunities and inspire them to become the best they can be, realise their full potential and live their dreams - while remaining true to themselves.

Role models - potential examples to be imitated - are constantly cropping up in the lives of young people. Many of them include parents and other adults in a family, siblings, teachers, peers and all kinds of public figures and celebrities. Since children tend to copy what they see, a chosen role model may not arise from a direct connection but rather from observation at a distance, for example, in noticing how someone treats or relates to another person, makes an impact on his or her community, makes a difference to society or has dealt with significant barriers or setbacks. Some role models are chosen because of what they have achieved, while others may be followed due to their perceived status.

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, a developmental psychologist, conducted some research into how young people develop the skills, abilities and motivation to become engaged citizens. (See The top five qualities that emerged as important to the young people in her study were:

  • Passion and ability to inspire
  • Clear set of values
  • Commitment to community
  • Selflessness and acceptance of others
  • Ability to overcome obstacles.

While these attributes are positive, many children and young people select detrimental role models because of strong negative influences, such as fear, or a lack of self-esteem, a craving for acceptance or to fit in, or in the absence of a flourishing vision for themselves.

According to Albert Einstein: “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking”. Inevitably young people want to be able to think for themselves and do some things differently from their parents and break away from limitations imposed by the culture surrounding them and change some of what they consider are malpractices. At times this healthy progress may require significant courage and lead to experiencing very challenging emotional turbulence.

Two key sources of real-life learning and empowerment are in the home and in the school environment. Ideally both nurture and lovingly support children as they learn to understand and manage their emotions and both should provide plenty of complementary opportunities to learn and practise essential life skills and develop internal strengths, resilience and a belief in themselves so that the individuals can relate well to others, uncover and let their talents blossom and build purpose and meaning into their lives.

As we know from many of the very costly problems facing society today, thousands of children and young people have a great need for appropriate role models because their parents’ own negative experiences of education and life and their values are profoundly adversely affecting their children’s attainment.

Some tips for successful role modelling in a school

  • Start with yourself – Encourage all members of staff to reflect upon their own behaviour, both within the gaze of pupils and their parents/carers, and in their private lives. Individuals will need to consider their own values, the messages they are transmitting and whether their actions are soundly based and consistent. Development can occur by assessing the impact from the modelling currently taking place and by stimulating even more innovative role modelling.

  • Establish a vision and aims – Have a clear vision of what explicit role modelling could achieve and by whom (for example, all members of staff, children at all levels, parents and carers) and aims that are applicable to all affected individuals and stakeholders in their particular contexts.

  • Gain consensus – Have a dialogue with relevant personnel about how explicit role modelling could contribute to the ethos of the school, its functioning and effectiveness and come to an agreement on how best to foster a climate of wellbeing and strategies to actively promote identified, life-enhancing attitudes, skills and behaviours.

  • Encourage communication and ‘walking your talk’ – The world is constantly changing and so, based on the opening lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are WHAT? and WHY? and WHEN?
And HOW? and WHERE? and WHO?

invite the whole school community to use these six serving-men creatively to guide them as they consciously think about being an inspiring role model for others. Finally, at a time when so much trust has been eroded by many occupying positions that would have been associated with admirable role models, stress authenticity and the importance of genuinely ‘walking your talk’.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"