Chapter 8 Empowerment
If you truly want your classroom to be student-led, I believe you need to make that goal explicitly clear from Day One.
So, how do you get students to take control? It starts when you empower them to make decisions and address the entire class. Encourage them daily to use “Give Me Fives” to interrupt the class to ask questions, make suggestions, or share their insights.
In addition, be intentional about supporting any and all attempts at student leadership—especially those that fail.
...empowerment, because it must be a teacher’s top priority.
GETTING PASSIONATE ABOUT LEARNING
Passion Time is a dedicated amount of time set aside each week for students to pursue interests. In my classroom, students are free to choose their focus without any outside influences,
Passion Projects simply need to be approved by the teacher and follow our process, which includes a reflective blog post at the end.
When I plan out my year, I schedule Passion Time twice a week for forty-five to sixty minutes each time. This time is for my students to build, create, design, research, learn, survey, etc., about topics of their choosing.
STEP ONE: FINDING THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION
All essential questions then populate a Google Spreadsheet that everyone in our class can view. This spreadsheet is important to me because I like to see how students improve their questions over the course of the year.
STEP TWO: PLANNING
During this time, students attempt to list the steps necessary for answering the Essential Question.
STEP THREE: DISCOVER AND BLOG ABOUT IT
The process of digging into their projects and discovering answers for themselves is what students love most about Passion Time.
STEP FOUR: WRAP IT UP AND SHARE
In my class, the final product must include a video, a written reflection, and a completed KWHLAQ Chart.
students need to answer the remaining three questions: • What did I Learn? • What Action can I take? (How do I involve others in my learning?) • What new Questions do I have? These questions supplement the formal, written reflection and encourage students to do something with their newfound knowledge.
STEP FIVE: PEER FEEDBACK
we devote a class period to listening to each other’s videos (independently, while wearing headphones), reading reflections, and providing helpful feedback.
CREATING TED-STYLE VIDEOS TO SHARE PASSION
EMPOWER CREATIVITY WITH MAKER SPACES
CREATE A SAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
They want to impress you. They want to earn high grades. They want to maintain friendships. It’s our responsibility as their teachers to minimize those pressures because students will never feel empowered in a classroom in which they feel unsafe.
Real empowerment, however, comes not from activities, but from belief. As a teacher, your foundational beliefs will guide your classroom and do more to shape your students’ lives than any activity ever could. I encourage you to consider each of the following beliefs. Are they part of your current teaching philosophy?
Choice: Empowered students are encouraged to make choices throughout their day.
Community: Students who feel connected and cared for learn and grow together. My hope is that students feel like brothers and sisters instead of classmates. To get there, I model what it means to care about each other’s well-being and talk about what it means to have one another’s backs.
Disagreement: Differing viewpoints make learning more interesting! Much of our class is about collaboration, so there can be a false belief that everyone has to agree all the time. That’s not at all true!
Excitement: A classroom is a place where students should feel free to express their excitement for learning.
Expertise: The teacher isn’t the (only) expert. If you are the only person on stage every day, it will be hard for students to see you as a member of the team.
Impact: Students want to make an impact on their world! One of the best ways to get your students to feel empowered is to provide them with opportunities to make a difference. Service-learning opportunities
Leadership: Students can capably lead themselves and others. Throughout this book, I’ve shared the benefits of student leadership. Empowering students to lead themselves and others results in better transfer of learning and more applicable skills for the work world.
Passion: Motivation grows when students love what they do. Unfortunately, most children (and adults, for that matter) struggle to identify areas as their passions.
Positive Self-Worth: Incremental improvement is most effective for long-term retention and personal development. When students feel judged by their grades, attentiveness, and good behavior, they may come to believe they aren’t good students (or worse, aren’t good people). By shifting the focus to improvement, students put forth more effort because they, too, can be successful.
Reflection: Looking back can be a powerful tool to see the way forward. Empower your students by taking time to make meaning of what they’ve learned.
Relevance: Material must be relevant to your students’ lives. So much of today’s curriculum makes no sense to children.
For example, we colonize Mars in an attempt to study the U.S. Constitution,
Resilience: Mistakes and failures are opportunities to grow! Empower your students to experience adversity and grow from it. Too
Self-Assessment: Personal improvement over time is more important than a grade.
Success: Children need to hear that they are doing well! Do your students feel successful on a regular basis or are they hearing only how they need to improve?
Voice: Being allowed to speak one’s mind empowers a person to develop his or her own beliefs and opinions. Make sure your students have opportunities to share their opinions and ideas with each other and with the teacher.
Wonder: A love for learning begins with curiosity.
Learning like a pirate is an involved, all-encompassing process. Every point, from peer collaboration and improving, to teaching responsibility, to providing active learning experiences, to developing twenty-first century skills, depends on student empowerment.