Examples of Empowered Students

In my recent post the “Three ‘E’s”, I make the case that the true evolution of public education should track from teachers who ‘Entertain their students’, to teachers who ‘engage’ their students, and finally to teachers who ’empower’ their students.

The post generated some interesting questions:

1. What’s wrong with being an ‘entertaining/cool’ teacher?

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with being entertaining and having students label you as a ‘cool’ teacher. You can still be entertaining and cool when you make your class more ‘engaging’, only now, your students are doing more of the work and you are in the spotlight a little less.

Even in a classroom where students are ’empowered’, you can be entertaining and cool, only now your job becomes easier in some ways because the students “OWN” their own learning. You are there more as a guide and an expert resource. Kids who have taken ownership and responsibility for their own learning aren’t looking for you to entertain them as much because by they have taken their learning into their own hands.

In this scenario John Taylor Gatto describes the difference between “Schooling and Education”.

2. When we empower students can we trust them to decide what they need to learn? Can we trust them to choose how they want to learn?

Gatto makes the case for students developing self-knowledge. He believes it is the keystone of a successful life. Pay particular attention to the student who talks about learning being his own responsibility…”teachers just open the door…”

3. Can we trust students to be responsible?

We say we want to foster responsible students; but we give them little or no ‘real’ responsibility. Gatto calls homework a ‘phony responsibility”. Gatto’s students run a homeless kitchen on their Friday independent study days. They learn responsibility by taking on real responsibility. You can see the entire “Classrooms of the Heart” video here; but pay particular attention to the last 1:40 seconds.

Empowering students is a radical idea. There are lots of obstacles to doing it, including the kids themselves who would rather be told what to do and follow a well-known script. As long as we progress no further than entertainment and engagement; the ownership for the students education falls solely us. The kids are just along for the ride. When students are truly empowered, they feel responsible for their own learning. We are there as responsible adults and experienced educators to insure that their learning experience is the very best it can be; but we aren’t in this alone anymore. We are joined by our partners in learning…our students.



9 thoughts on “Examples of Empowered Students

  1. Hi Pete,
    I saw a good example of empowerment in an art class this week. Grade 10’s in groups of 5 finished creating modern totem poles that stand 8 feet high. They combined an individualistic image of their identity and coupled it with an organic, community theme. It was a well designed unit which encouraged students to be self actualized. Empowerment can be achieved through well designed lessons and units.

  2. Paul,
    Well designed lessons and units go a long way to getting us to an environment of empowerment. We can go even further when there are multiple lessons, units, and activities for a topic and they can choose between them. Better yet is all of the above AND we let students have some input into lesson and activity design.

  3. This approach is truly inspiring. We need to find a way to step back to a mentoring model, rather than our mass produced assembly line that we see all too often. When following their own curiosities, for the most part, students will formulate meaningful questions and find the answers. Then they will see a need for the traditional skills that we try to teach artificially.

  4. Carolynn,
    Yes. Their own interests, their own contexts, their own learning styles…will create openings for us to teach and guide, while insuring that the ownership of the learning resides with the student.


  5. Great post, and a big Yes! to empowering students. Further, we also need to empower teachers and all other stakeholders through collaboration. To know more about the power of collaborative management for transforming our schools, see the free download “Crisis in School Management: Making Schools Work for Every One”
    http://www.crisisinschool management.com

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