Each summer, as the new school year approaches, I take time to reevaluate my educational philosophy and goals based upon my experiences from the previous year and the present circumstances. As I reflect this year, I recognize an important and necessary shift in education. Up until this point, my career as an educator has been characterized by an effort to shift the focus from student compliance to student engagement. Never accepting that compliance should be the end goal in education (as it often appears to be), my pursuits have centered on engaging students in learning through active participation in stimulating content and hands-on activities. I now recognize the need to move beyond engagement toward empowerment.
George Couros suggests, “Helping students find their own paths - not the ones we set out for them - has always been the focus of education, yet we need to be more explicit about this path.” By empowering students to pursue their individual talents and passions, we provide them with the opportunity to develop their own voice and follow their own direction. In this way, the role of the educator shifts from trying to excite students about the forthcoming learning (engagement) to inspiring students to pursue learning through endless possibilities (empowerment). None of this is possible, of course, without tapping into students’ interests.
The pursuit of engagement requires attention to interesting curricula. Indeed, engagement is achieved by getting students excited about the content, lessons and activities that we, as educators, have determined appropriate. Taking this a step further, educators can empower their students by providing opportunities for students to explore content and produce products aligned to their individual talents and passions. By involving students in the creation of their learning activities, empowerment places the student in a position of ownership when it comes to his or her learning. And when students own their learning, an educator’s primary roles are to inspire and facilitate learning.
This year, I commit to inspire learning in an effort to empower the students and staff I serve. I recognize that this is no small charge and confess that I am still uncertain of exactly how to execute it. I do, however, now realize that if education is to be something that occurs as a result of what the learner is doing (rather than something that is done to the learner), then we must embrace our charge to inspire the endless learning possibilities that exist when we provide opportunities to pursue individual talents and passions. I invite you to join me on this journey to inspire learning by empowering learners.