All of our students need to be able to make choices and have opportunities. Allowing our students to have options in how and what they learn helps keeps our students invested in school. Not long ago in schools, these differentiated opportunities for students were limited. Schools were seen as places where the administrators and staff members were the ones who had all of the information. Those times have certainly changed. Our students are becoming more and more knowledgeable in a variety of areas in and out of school. While teachers still play a huge role in the learning process and facilitate learning in their classrooms everyday, technology is also playing a large role in educating our students.
When it comes to empowering students, I believe a large part of it consists of letting kids be kids. Allow our students to inquire, ask questions, and try things that may lead to failure. As a leader, that consists of a lot of times of saying “Yes!” to ideas and proposals that may be out of the ordinary. I try not to say “No!” when it comes to ideas and proposals. My goal is that staff and students feel comfortable knowing they can try new ways of teaching and learning without the fear of the principal watching over them for mistakes. Empowering students, whether it is with the use of technology or not, happens when leaders focus on growth and learning and ignore the unknown of the end results.
For years in education the focus has been on providing students with information and concentrating on covering standards. Instead of letting educators and students “push the envelope,” we have looked to maintain the status quo and not change as educators. To empower students, we need to create a culture of experimenting and asking questions. We need to try different methods and share with others. Spreading the word throughout the building and community that students and staff can take chances will transform a culture. Sharing the stories of new methods and practices that are successful will only strengthen the belief in students that they are leaders and are key pieces in the positive climate of the school culture.
Everyone likes to be recognized. People take notice. Students and staff are no different. Celebrating student and staff success is another major part of empowering students. I especially enjoy seeing students and staff succeed in personalized learning environments. You can feel the sense of accomplishment from students and staff succeed knowing it was in their hands and at their pace. Letting others know about those success stories builds confidence in others. Finding ways such as recognizing staff during meetings, highlighting students in newsletters, and congratulating students and staff in the hallways will help spread empowerment through a building.
Student empowerment can change the culture of a school if its done the right way. Sometimes you can't clearly tell if student empowerment exists in schools and classes. When empowerment is embedded in the culture though, you can see subtle changes. Staff and students begin trying new things for the betterment of learning. Taking risks and learning from failure are the hallmarks of empowerment. Our staff and students know they can mess up and still had a shot to make it right.