Historically, classroom material has been designed to be taught by a teacher, not to be self-taught by the student. However, since students are capable of learning and contributing so much more to their educational experience than just passively memorizing and regurgitating material, the role of the educator is changing. This article dives into three core pillars of student empowerment and how educators can leverage these pillars to work in tandem with students to enable greater outcomes.

Self-Learning: Enable Students to Self-Teach

We associate teachers, classrooms, and schools with learning, but much of an education also happens on a student's own time outside of school. When a skill is self-taught, knowledge is much more likely to stick. Self-efficacy and mastering tasks on one's own are powerful ways to affect psychological change, as it is a cognitive mechanism that affects both learning and confidence1:

  • Embrace New Models: Try fostering an environment where students can teach themselves through trial and error. Project-based learning, personalized and blended learning, and competency-based learning, are all great formats for enabling self-learning. The student builds upon knowledge like building blocks, and the teacher is available for support and guidance as needed.
  • Let Students Own It: Taking ownership over one's learning is a central concept for this pillar. Students become confident learners when they feel that they are in control of their own learning. Through utilizing self-paced and self-directed learning models, students become more engaged and learn to employ problem solving skills when faced with new problems.

While the jobs of tomorrow haven't been invented yet, it is imperative that teachers enable students to become confident learners, so they'll be able to adapt and think critically throughout their career paths.

Student Voice: Provide Students with a Platform to Share Their Voice

Among the education community, there is a growing sense that schools are spending too much time pushing content rather than listening to students. The business world values the voice of the customer and solicits feedback regularly in order to improve products and services. Schools, unfortunately do not solicit student feedback, which is a critical mistake.

Students are resident experts in the school experience, being in school 180 days of the year, and could provide a wealth of knowledge and creative ideas for how schools can improve. In order to begin soliciting student feedback, certain conditions must exist in a school for students to have a sense that they have a voice3:

  • Cultivate Community: Stuents must feel that they are a valued member of a unified community working towards a common goal. If teachers and administrators can see students as partners, rather than exerting command and control over the student body, then students can begin to feel that their voice is valued. Encourage students to speak up and contribute their ideas on how the school can improve. By working side-by-side and building a positive rapport with students, students are more likely to step up into leadership positions and roles of responsibility once they feel their voices are heard and that they can help enact meaningful change.

  • Be a Hero: Many students do not have the kind of adult support they need at home or from friends to help motivate them throughout their educational journey. Provide outlets for mentorship programs in order to forge meaningful one-on-one relationships between students and role models. Having a confidant to talk to about personal or academic struggles can make all the difference in the world to an at-risk or struggling student.

Motivation: Motivate Students Through Relevant & Engaging Work

There are certain methods that faculty and administrators can implement that are low-cost and low-effort, yet deliver high returns for student engagement:

  • Make Coursework Relevant: Instead of relying on dated textbooks and antiquated course materials, try designing or curating future-oriented classwork and assignments. Oftentimes, K-12 students don't see how academic work is relevant for their future, so to them the incentives are low for mastering knowledge and skills that won't apply to them outside of school. When assignments are relevant or directly related to real-life scenarios, students become 14.8x more academically motivated.5 Allow students to spend time exploring subjects and digging deep into projects that interests them.
  • Celebrate Success: Schools tend to focus on what a student needs to improve upon, instead of celebrating a student's hard work and achievements. In order to know they're on track, students need encouragement and praise for their efforts, instead of punishment if they're struggling. Students need to know that everyone is capable of learning more and mastering skills if they keep applying themselves.4
  • Make It Fun: Having fun doesn't have to disappear after elementary school. The traditional regimented school days and bell structure dissuades productivity and amplifies stress instead of providing space for students to explore their interests. Making assignments or group work fun and exciting can help drive engagement and spark curiosity and creativity in students. If teachers can present assignments in a more interesting and engaging way, students become 14.1x more engaged!5

Providing students the space and time to self-teach, as outlined above, can help ignite a newfound love of learning, and help build a student's confidence to take action over the direction of their coursework, and ultimately, their career path.

Resources: Photo Credit. (1) Is Motivation a Major Factor in Test Scores?  (3) Rigor, Relevance, and Relationship (4) The Perils and Promise of Praise (5) Impacting Academic Motivation in Students. Profile: U.S. Students (Grades 6-12) Based on 2012-13 My Voice Survey Data