Posted on October 19, 2023
Student empowerment is so important. It builds confidence and allows the students to discover knowledge on their own. It is important to have people who can help guide them and give them some direction. However, what they learn on their own will stay with them the longest. It is also more important than ever that students have critical and creative thinking skills. There was a time when memorizing all the facts was important. Now that we can look up that information with the phone we always have with us, fact-memorization is not as important. It is more important that we can figure out how to use that information to come up with new ideas.
When I taught kindergarten for several years, often had some incoming students who were taught to memorize facts, how to spell words, etc. If I asked them to spell “I can see a cat”, they had no trouble. However, if I asked them to think of a sentence about a cat, they could not come up with anything. They were already so used to micromanagement that they could not think creatively on their own. Or perhaps they were so scared of not having the best sentence that they were too frozen in thought to express it. The funny thing is that these were the kids that were moved through the advanced track. Meanwhile, there were other students who could come up with great little stories but had no idea how to spell them on paper. As I write this, I am thinking perhaps they could be amazing partners—the yin and the yang. But if they are partnered, would they grow in the opposite direction, or would they become reliant on each other to always be there to do the opposite part? If that were the case, what happens if one is no longer there? Which one truly has the advantage? Decades ago, perhaps she was the one who could write everything. Now, with voice-to-text, perhaps it is the one who creates it and then has the technology to actually write it out.
Later, I moved on to teach the advanced 2nd grade. I absolutely loved teaching that class. The reason is that we focused on critical thinking and creative thinking. Because they were already ahead of grade level, I had a little more leeway in focusing on creativity. At different times, we implemented chess, genius hour, and even tried young entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we couldn't finish Young Entrepreneurs, as that is when everything shut down for COVID. But over the years, I witnessed a whole new excitement in learning when we added these opportunities. We also did a fun project the last quarter called “Teacher for a Day... Well, for 45 Minutes”. The kids could teach about whatever they wanted but could not teach math or language arts (to avoid confusion on tests). They had to come up with their lesson and some sort of method to check for learning and then grade it (only I saw the grading of it). I recommend every teacher try this, as some are very reflective of how the teacher teaches. We had amazing topics. We had someone teach about the Titanic (They taught way over their time), skateboard safety, hair braiding using yarn, some basic Spanish, some basic Turkish, Beethoven, etc. These kids, when asked to teach about something they loved and empowered to do it however they wanted, could present on their topic without notes or any trouble for 45 minutes and beyond. They came up with relevant assessment methods. The girl teaching braiding brought in a set of three pieces of yarn taped together for each student, and they taped the top to their desk and each proceeded to show what they learned. Those teaching languages used worksheets with matching of some sort. The kids who taught about the Titanic had several activities and even wrote a story that took place on the Titanic, placing the other students and myself as characters. What I saw was truly amazing and transformational. Every kid got to show the others what they were passionate about. Everyone thought everyone else did great. One kid took the papers home and graded them next to her dad, who was a teacher, while he was grading papers. These kids were empowered, and they took that seriously. If we can build their confidence that they can create projects and lessons, speak in front of their peers, and so much more, they can eventually transfer some of that to topics that may not be their favorites because they already have sense of success.
Unfortunately, schools shifted during COVID and encouraged apathy instead in the name of relieving stress. Then, when they saw the kids were behind and state assessment scores were going to start mattering again, they seemed to panic. This led to a push to have everyone do the same thing and leave less room for creativity and empowerment. This was the point where I knew I needed something different. The split between the top kids and the bottom kids is now bigger. They not only lost the empowerment, but many were no longer motivated by it. I want to have my microschool empower the kids to reach their goals and give them opportunities to build confidence and explore new things. That is why our tagline is “Empowering Minds, Building Futures!”