5 Things That Happen When We Empower Students

A.J. Juliani on episode 165 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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AJ Juliani, author of Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning talks about the empowerment of students. How teachers can be the “guide on the ride” and help students find their passions. We can do this!

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.

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Enhanced Transcript

Five Things That Happen When We Empower Students

Show notes: http://ift.tt/2y3wKBE
Friday, October 6, 2017

Vicki: So excited to talk to AJ Juliani @ajjuliani, author of Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.

We’re going to talk about five things that happen when we empower students. AJ, what is the first thing?

1. Students fall in love with learning

AJ: Well, when you empower students the first thing that happens is that they fall in love with learning. They find joy in pursuing their passions and their interests. In the process, they learn how to research, curate, and communicate.

A lot of times, we talk about engaging students. And engaging students is getting students about our content, our curriculum, our interests. But as Bill Ferriter puts it, “Empowering students is about giving kids the skills and knowledge to get excited about their passions, their future, and their interests.”

So the first thing that happens is that they fall in love with learning.

Vicki: Oh, and it’s so exciting when it happens. I know you write about it a lot in your book and on your blog, and there’s nothing like it in the world.

OK, what’s our second?

2. Students become self-starters

AJ: The second thing is that they become self-starters. Right? So they begin to explore new frontiers. They ask hard questions. They try new things.

So not every kid’s going to become, say, a future entrepreneur. But they will need to think like entrepreneurs in an uncertain world that we live in.

As my co-author, John Spencer, “The corporate ladder is gone. In its place is a complex maze. Self-starters are the ones who are going to navigate that maze and figure out how to build something new along the way.”

Vicki: Oh, I love it. And this just sounds like such an ideal world. I know at the end we’re going to talk about how you get kids there, because it’s like, “Oh, everybody wants this, don’t we?”

AJ: (laughs) Yeah!

Vicki: OK, what’s the third?

3. Students become problem-solvers and design thinkers

AJ: The third thing is that they become problem solvers and design thinkers. It might not seem like a big deal in the moment, but when students kind of own their actual process, they figure out how to solve problems in the actual moment.

We know as adults, that’s what we do all day long. We make choices. We come up with decisions. We problem solve. So when students are empowered, they learn how to navigate multiple systems and build even more efficient systems for themselves and for the people that they’re serving.

Vicki: And we want them to solve problems because it’s especially awesome when we have them solve real-world problems in their life or in their school, isn’t it?

AJ: Yes. I mean, that’s really kind of what it’s all about. It’s about that authentic piece where they’re doing something not just for a teacher, but for a classmate or for a real audience.

Vicki: Yeah. OK, what’s our fourth?

4. They challenge “the system”

AJ: Alright, so fourth is that they challenge the system. So a lot of times you have students who are kind have gone through the system, and they’re being very compliant, being rewarded for being compliant. Right? It’s the kid in the class who raises their hand, is quiet, does everything the teacher asks them. Students learn how to play this game of school very early on.

My daughter’s in second grade, Vicki. She already knows the game of school. It’s basically, “If you make the adult in front of you at school happy, the adults at home are happy.” Right? She understands that game of school.

But when you empower kids, they challenge the system. They kind of go outside the bounds and rewrite the rules. It’s the notion that student ownership is kind of subversive a little bit. It challenges the status quo.

And really, what we want students to be is people who go out into the world, and don’t just fall in line, but really kind of challenge the status quo. That’s what empowering students does.

Does this “system challenging” behavior scare people?

Vicki: Doesn’t that scare some people, AJ?

AJ: I think it does. A lot of times, we have this traditional setting for education, where students come in, they do what they’re told, they follow rubrics, and they go through.

But the more and more teachers I talk to, and the more and more work I see in my own school district, what we find is that the students that are most successful aren’t the ones that just fall in line.

They’re the ones that are trying to work on something that they actually care about, something that interests them. In order to do that, they’re going to have to go outside the lines every once in awhile.

Vicki: Yeah. And there is a way to help kids rebel against the right things. I mean, I think it’s perfectly fine to rebel against the status quo. In fact, we should do that.

OK, what’s our fifth?

5. Students become architects of their own learning

AJ: Right. So, the fifth one is that they become architects of their own learning. And this is really important because, for the rest of their life, they are going to be learners.

We know that the successful people in the world today and in the future are going to be learners. Things are just changing too quickly. Change is really the only constant. In order for people to be successful, while they’re in school and well beyond school, they have to be learners.

They have to be the ones that can find their own resources, that can find mentors, that can reach out to people. If we want students to become those lifelong learners, that involves student ownership.

I think the shift that I want to be very clear about is that – I think that for a long time, we believed that our job is to prepare students for something. That something might be a job, college, career, any of those different types of things.

But right now, our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything. And that’s what happens when you empower them.

Vicki: So, as we finish up – because you’ve given us five awesome things that happen when we empower students – but now, I mean, as I’m listening to this – and I feel like I have empowered students in my classroom. But it’s a constant struggle to shift that empowerment away from the natural “leader of the classroom, the teacher” to who really needs to lead the classroom, our students.

How do we do that? Give us a pep talk.

30-Second Pep talk with 2 important tips for teachers

AJ: So I think really it comes down to two things.

1) You have to be the guide on the ride.

For a long time in education, we talked about the sage on the stage, the person that’s just kind of in front of the classroom, speaking, lecturing students. We wanted to move away from that to a guide on the side, right? The teacher that facilitates learning, that help students along the process.

But going a step further than a guide on the side is the guide on the ride. That’s a teacher that’s excited and on the journey with their students of what they’re learning. They’re attacking new things as well. They’re learning new things as well. They become a kind of learning partner and mentor.

Think about Yoda. Think about Obi Wan. Think about Gandalf. Think about Miss Frizzle. These guides are along for the ride, are along for the journey, helping their students succeed.

So that’s kind of the first thing – kind of changing the practice to be the guide on the ride.

2) The second thing is something you can do very quickly – giving students choice.

Now a lot of times, we think choice is just choice in content. It can be choice in content, and they can still hit skills and standards-based the content that they choose.

But, it can be choice in their learning path.

  • It can be choice in how they demonstrate understanding.
  • It can be choice in their assessment.
  • It can be choice in the timeframe.

When you give students choice, they get to own some of that process. As a teacher, you then allow them to be empowered.

Why teachers are “the guide on the ride”

Vicki: Oh! I like the guide on the ride!

AJ: (laughs)

Vicki: Because, really, if you think about it, it’s a journey, and we’re learning as we walk. We’re not really learning (by) sitting down talking around a table. As we go on this journey of whatever we’re trying to accomplish, (that’s) where we do our teaching.

AJ: That’s right! And we’re active participants in it. Right? We’re not just giving them a roadmap and getting out of the way. We’re with them.

Vicki: Totally!

AJ: We’re pointing out things. We’re having conversations. We are along for that journey.

Vicki: Yeah. It’s really a multiplying effect. We both become more because we’re actively engaged in the whole process of learning. And in a lot of ways the teachers are learning just as much as the kids, aren’t we?

AJ: That’s right. It may not be learning about the content matter, but we’re learning about a whole lot of other things.

Every time I’ve done a project with my students, I’m learning not just new things about whatever content we’re covering, I’m learning about the technology we’re using. I’m learning about the marketing that my kids are doing when they’re sending stuff out into the world. I’m learning about the kids. And they’re learning about me as well.

Vicki: Well, teachers, let’s empower our students!

Check the show notes to enter the competition to win the book, Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I think this is something that we can all agree that we want in our remarkable classrooms!

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

A.J. Juliani is the Director of Technology and Innovation for Centennial School District. As a former English teacher, football coach, and K-12 Technology Staff Developer, A.J. has worked towards innovative learning experiences for students in various roles. A.J. is also an award-winning blogger, speaker, and author of multiple books including the best-selling LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student and the newly released Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.



Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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