The Value Of Fairness

Today I'm excited because I got to speak at the Harris County Department of Education Mid-Winter Conference and Joelle, a blogger whose worked I've followed over at Not Just Child's Play for some time now, came to my workshop. What a treat! 

This on the heels of a week of kindness and a month of fairness in the spotlight. Yesterday we started the day with our Fairness Pep Rally. 
My heart is bursting at the seams.

We shared a fairness film clip called Touching Them All and, despite there being 500 intermediate learners in the gym, you could have heard a pin drop while the story of an injured college softball player and an odd ruling on the field played out.

The Character Cam caught the Principal giving out Bag Tags
to those students who'd been nominated for putting fairness into action. 
Every day.
Because we get more of what we focus on.
So much great energy when we spotlight character.

In leadership classes, we've been strengthening our fairness muscles with this activity we did fifteen years ago at the Character Counts! character development seminar. Our job was to read these six applications and decide which child we would award a scholarship to:
Of course we found that difficult to do because we simply didn't have enough information to make a fair decision. And that's the point, right? I've done a WOW Awards variation of this with my younger students, but now that I'm in intermediate, I decided to try this one. Since the activity was originally intended for high school students and/or adults, I altered the bios ever so slightly so that they read like this:

After a little puppet show with my pirate puppet Patch, who doesn't think it's fair that he has a hook for a hand and they don't, we dig in. I tell the students that we have a scholarship worth 100K to pay for college for one of these students. We talk about what the word scholarship means, and a few of them knew that scholarships are typically designated to reward something, like good grades, athleticism, or financial need. It's good to put that out there, but let them know that this scholarship is for students, not for something specific. Be vague on purpose; you'll come back to that later when you get to the point of not really being able to fairly evaluate these candidates against one another without better criteria up front. I ask for a volunteer to read what we know about the first applicant.

After reading about Sarah, I suggest that maybe we should just go ahead and give it to her. After all, teachers don't really make that much money and, well, they do love their teacher, right? Try as I may to convince them to just give it to the teacher's kid, my students convince me that it wouldn't be fair to just give it to Sarah because she's first but that we need to read them all.

So I play along, every once in awhile putting in a plug for one or trying to make it seem unfair, to get them thinking. Evaluating. Reflecting.

And after we discuss whom they think we ought to give it to and why, 
we take it to a vote, at their suggestion, to be fair. 
{None of them thinks paper, rock, scissors ought to decide something this important!} 
They suggest that each student ought to have a voice since they're pretty sure it'd be too hard to agree on just one candidate as a group. And yet, this is what that vote looked like at our school:

We tallied our fifth-grade vote on the left after our discussion made it clear to me that they weren't as set on giving it to Nelda as the younger voters. Their thinking had to do with Matthew possibly being the best steward of our scholarship. I was riveted by their reflections and really wished we'd have had more time to talk it through. We still have three classes that will vote on Monday, so it'll be interesting to see if Matthew gains any more momentum.

Real-life data.
From intermediate-aged fairness ambassadors.
Their argument pretty solid:
The majority wants the scholarship to go to Nelda,
because she needs our help.
Fairness, they explained to me, is all about giving people 
what they need 
when they need it, 
to level the playing field.

Click image for source.

After the results were in, I did try to play devil's advocate one more time. 
Me: Oh, dear, I forgot to tell you that our scholarship donor wants the money to go to a teacher's child.
Them: That's not fair to tell us that after we voted.
Me: You're right! Criteria needs to be set ahead of time and not changed midstream. You sure do know a lot about fairness.

Then, to seal the deal with a movement break,
What a rush that was, to feel the energy of that brain boost.

UPDATE: Monday morning, a third-grade learner came up to me in the hallway with an important inquiry on his heart: Is it too late to change my vote? He said that he'd been thinking about it and he'd changed his mind about who ought to get the scholarship, from Nelda to Matthew because he got to thinking and he's pretty sure Matthew would do a better job with our money. 

The learning is, indeed, in the reflection!

For more ideas on teaching the value of fairness, 
including the concept of equality versus equity, 
click {here} and {here}.


  1. I am thinking of creating a lesson about fairness -- these ideas and resources are so helpful. Thanks!!! I will be googling "whole body rock-paper-scissors" sounds like something my students would love!

    1. I took a video of our 3rd graders doing the brain boost; I'll try to email it to you when I get back to my iPad tomorrow. They loved it.

  2. What a great exercise in fairness. Such and important theme for kids. I loved reading your post and how the kids responded.


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