I became a teacher because I thought I could change the world. Now I know what a foolish endeavor I have set out upon. It is not so much that I cannot change the world, my teaching career is not over yet so I will not throw in the towel. It is more that I don’t care so much about changing the world anymore, but rather that I care about helping children change the world. My time is now, but theirs is coming up and as a teacher I have the privilege of being able to provide students with opportunities to make a difference, to make a change, to make their mark.
So what can you do to empower your students? I have been writing my second book on this topic for Corwin (hopeful publication this fall!) and keep coming back to the same simple principles.
Give them a voice – but also help them understand what it means to have a voice. Many of my students assume that having a voice just means speaking up, but to me it is much broader than that. Having a voice means having a say, deciding in what happens within the classroom or the school. Changing the way school is provided and having a way to speak to the world.
Breed honesty. Too often our students are too nice to say how they really feel about what we are doing to them, so leading by example in your own honest reflections, and starting discussions where students can safely share their true opinions, knowing that they will not haunt them in the future through a vindictive teacher. Yes, honesty can hurt our pride as teachers, even mine, but I would rather know what I am doing wrong than having students pretend everything is okay.
Find your place. It is too simplistic to say that our place as teachers should be on the side, it is also too simplistic to say that it should be as the leader. Instead as a teacher, our jobs and our place changes every day and sometimes every minute. While one child may need you to hold their hand, another needs you to push them forward. One child may need for you to get out of their way, while another is lost. I thought I would fail as a teacher if I led my students, now I know I only fail if I don’t give them what they need.
Make room for failure and success. Too often we simplify failure and how we must embrace it because that is the only true way to learn. Yet, success is also needed. Sure students need perseverance, we all do, but we also need success to fuel our perseverance. If I set up a classroom where students continually failed all in the name of creative pursuit, I would have a classroom full of students unsure that they would ever be able to succeed. Chance of failure – absolutely – but chance of success as well!
While empowering students is more than this, this are the foundation that I build my classroom upon. These are the tenets that must be in place for my students to continue developing into the incredibly passionate, confident, self-reliant problem-solvers they can be. Then they can change the world, and not just when they grow up, but starting today as 5th graders, not waiting for tomorrow.