Do You Engage Students or Empower Them?

Where are you on your teaching journey? What big lesson have you recently learned from teaching?

I’m currently wrestling with the idea of student engagement versus student empowerment. For years, I thought student engagement was the greatest goal a teacher could aim for.  I went to great lengths to engage students. I wanted their undivided attention. Recently, I’ve been contemplating that empowerment can take engagement one step further. I want to give my students more choices and options in hopes that it will ignite their own passions and interests and drive them to learn on their own.

If I could make sure students paid attention and kept focused on my lessons, I was happy, and better yet, I thought students were happy. For years, I did everything I could to help students pay attention to my class. I’ve created games for students to play. I’ve created visual slide shows to illustrate key points. I incorporated various technologies into my class, including iPads, smartphones, Google apps, etc. I used student-centered group work and poster exercises in hopes of catering to different learning styles. All this to get students to engage students in my class.

I read Dave Burgess’ book Teach Like a PIRATE, which was very focused on student engagement. Almost half the book is devoted to “Crafting Engaging Lessons.” He offers a plethora of ideas about how to engage students. I used a few of his ideas, and they worked really well.

More recently, I read George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. This book made me reconsider my approach to how to engage my students. I began thinking about ways I can offer choices to my students, so ultimately, they engage themselves. I am now thinking about ways I can give my students more voice to share their interests and teach each other. I want to allow my students to bring their passions into the classroom and let them create things and share things that have value to them.

The challenge I’m having with the concept of student empowerment is finding the right balance between student freedom and teacher guidance. Most of my international students are not used to having choices. Most of my students come from a top-down, teacher-centered educational background. They don’t know what to do when given freedom of choice and seem to rely on some teacher guidance.

Engagement vs. Empowerment is the lesson I’m currently learning. I will continue experimenting with various ideas until I can find the right alchemy that gives my students the ability to drive their own learning but also feel supported enough that the freedom is not daunting.

As I take these risks in my classroom, I will share and reflect on the alphas & deltas here. Please cross your fingers for me. What are you learning in your classroom?

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