I’ve been thinking a lot about empowerment this week, and a common thread keeps coming up…the importance of being a good listener.  No, I’m not talking about the good listener who sits criss-cross-applesauce, keeps his lips zipped and eyes on the teacher (*insert eye roll here*)… I’m talking about teachers as listeners.

In last week’s #IMMOOC chat, Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) spoke about the process of becoming a 1:1 school district.  He described:

I was really fortunate to have a group of high school students as a part of the decision-making process…the high school students were actually the ones that decided on the iPads…the high schoolers were a key part of that whole thing…the teachers were a little uncomfortable going with the tablet, but the kids told us that they were going to go smoothly, that the kids were going to help the teachers along the way, and the transition couldn’t have gone better because we had the kids so heavily involved in that.

Burlington School District’s choice to not only involve their students, but listen to their students (important distinction here), empowered the students and helped to make the 1:1 initiative a success.

We strive to create a classroom environment and school culture where students feel empowered academically.  But that’s not enough.  In the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros (@gcouros) highlights the importance of relationships.  He claims, “The three most important words in education are:  relationships, relationships, relationships.  Without them, we have nothing.”  Social empowerment is even more important than academic empowerment.  Something as simple as remembering a student’s name on the first day of school helps a student to feel heard and empowered.  We shouldn’t only ask for student ideas, we should repeat their contributions, expand on them, and relate to them.  Empowerment opens doors for learning, communication, teamwork, risk-taking, and inspiration.

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Image from @julesrsh on @upsplash

We must remember that our objective as leaders who embody the Innovator’s Mindset is not just to empower scholars – it is to empower humans in all facets of their life.  When we start to blend the line between school and life (which can be done by forming quality, meaningful relationships), empowerment occurs much more authentically.

In her blog Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Tracy Zager (@TracyZager) discusses her first step in supporting teachers:

In my coaching and my work with preservice teachers, I’ve learned that my square one is always the same: I want teachers to become addicted to listening to students’ mathematical ideas. It might sound like simple advice, but it’s not. Everything else follows. Once we become fascinated by our students’ creativity and ingenuity, we become more motivated to teach math. We enjoy it more, and so do our students. 

Zager’s advice can apply to all leaders – not just math teachers.  She goes on to offer some of the best advice I’ve ever read:  “When I feel unsure of what to do, I think, “Don’t just do something; stand there.  Listen.”  In teaching models of the past, an emphasis was put on the student as a listener.  As we embrace more student-centered approaches to teaching and learning we must put listening at the forefront of our minds.  When teachers listen, they empower.  And when learners feel empowered, the sky is the limit…

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One thought on “Listen.

  1. Kim Gadsdon

    Emily, my son who is in grade 7 just said this evening, “We have Chromebooks in our classroom and we are so lucky.” When I asked him to explain, he said that if he needs something, he can “just get it”. The empowerment piece is evident. What he does with it moving forward could be phenomenal!
    – Kim Gadsdon #immooc


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