Captains & Poets is for Students AND Teachers

By Karen Papadopoulos

As a teacher with the Durham District School Board for 23 years and Head of Library at Dunbarton High School, I am optimistic about the future because kids today are more self-aware and recognize the importance of inclusivity and valuing differences in others than when I started.

But high school can be a difficult time for kids as they often don’t feel like they have a voice or aren’t able to express themselves as easily as others. The opportunity to implement Captains & Poets came at the perfect time because we need to empower young people to be their true, authentic selves and to build on and ignite the spirit of inclusivity that is there in our young people.

The truth is, it is often adults that are lagging behind young people; this is why the program is so needed in the classroom to help create that sense of connection and open up the right discussions between students and with the teacher.

Captains & Poets provides kids with ready access to key parts of themselves and the ability to share personal experiences in a way that feels safer. They talk about their captain and their poet and how everyone has one, which acts as a kind of equalizer. This also gives teachers the ability to share and acknowledge students using the framework of Captain and Poet and to have more meaningful check-ins: How is your Captain doing today? How about your Poet? How are they working/not working together for you? What impact is that having on you and what is going on in your life?

The program enables kids, even those who don’t have the language or experience or simply aren’t comfortable enough or bold enough to initiate the dialogue to engage in a meaningful discussion about identity, the challenges they are facing, and what matters to them.

I ran the Captains & Poets program alongside two Grade 11 English classes and once the students became familiar with the concept of captain and poet on a personal level and how they are an integrated function, we could easily apply them to the curriculum and used them to reflect on the characters in a novel and a play. Key themes that arose were how we navigate the world around us and how others decide who we are compared to who we really are.

Captains & Poets offers a safe way for kids to express themselves and sets the groundwork for uncovering deeper discussions in the classroom about identity and societal issues in an increasingly a complex world.