If you have read “The Innovator’s Mindset,” you will remember George’s idea on the difference between “engaging” students and “empowering” students. Through the differentiation that George made between the two concepts, I started reflecting on intangible and tangible results that I have experienced as an educator in the classroom which inspired me to create the infographic above.
As an educator, I’ve always been intrigued on teaching students through student-led learning. “Student-led” or “student-centered” learning can take on different meanings depending on the circumstance or the interpreter. I knew that I wanted to empower my students through this process. I did not want to be THE keeper of the knowledge, instead, I wanted to be the caretaker of student talent.
Needless to say, it can be overwhelming to begin such a mindset shift. “Big ideas” are wonderful, but to be implemented properly, it is beneficial to think of your “big idea” in mini-steps, while reflecting and changing footing as you go.
Therefore, to start my student-led process, I first started by recruiting my students and gaining their help. Together, we took student goals and learning standards and reworded them to student-friendly language. In time, students then started leading small reading goal setting groups and conferring groups.
I must say that success in these groups did not happen overnight. There was a HUGE learning curve, for myself and for students, but that is okay. My students were not used to leading and being “in charge” and I was not used to it either; These symptoms were a direct side effect of inexperience. But, instead of chalking up the attempts as failures, I started asking my students what they felt they needed to successfully lead groups and to work as a team.
Fact: If you ask 6th graders for “honest feedback” you will get just that. They usually do not hold back; Which is terrifying and humbling all at the same time. Nonetheless, their answers surprised me: They said they needed to learn “how to work together” and how to “help other kids to talk when they wouldn’t say anything.”
I pride myself in using collaborative skills and cooperating learning strategies, so their honest feedback was an eye-opener for me. However, I took a step back and realized that in my cooperative learning techniques, I was showing them how to be collaborative in well-structured settings where I was overseeing every interaction. As a result, when the tables turned and students led the groups, they were not able to apply these collaborative skills to new settings that were completely unfamiliar.
In other words, “I,” the teacher, was leading the movement and swooping in as needed rather than allowing them to learn organically. In my infographic above, I give general statements that fit under “engagement” and “empowerment,” although many could fit in both columns. Likewise, this does not mean that student engagement does not matter. It does matter. But, if we think of how we learn as adults, most of us would rather be in the driver seat to a certain degree, rather than sitting in passenger seats waiting for delivered information at a uniform pace. It is a balance. I wish I could create a formula of instruction that works in all cases, but I cannot. As we all know, it depends on the individual learner and what that learner needs at any given moment.
As George Couros says, “Should we be a sage on the stage, the guide on the side, or the architect of learning? – The answer is that teacher should be all of those. The art of teaching is figuring out when you should be which one.”
“We’re All in This Together”
Consequently, through listening to straightforward feedback from my students, I was able to help model interactions that were more conversational based from student-to-student. I quickly saw students taking their own spin on how they spoke and interacted with others. Looking back, I believe that with time and practice, students became more comfortable with more freedom and lack of limits.
But, when I say” lack of limits,” it is important to note that I am not implying that high standards and expectations were not set. Alternatively, through consistent student input, I did not need to constantly iterate MY expectations and mine alone. Instead, the process was natural; It allowed for all of us to come together to build reasonable expectations as a team. The instruction moved from teacher-led to student-led, to “we are all in this together.”
Through watching my students excel through the steep learning curve, I learned how to reangle my approach. It was never about students leading in the first place, it was about students needing to feel heard and valued. Once individuals feel that their opinions evoke real change, leadership and empowerment naturally happen.