We talk a lot about how to empower students in classrooms and beyond. It is an extremely potent term in education today, and schools and classrooms are taking some deep dives into just what empowerment looks like for them.
A key part of empowerment is understanding where a person is before we begin strengthening their knowledge and skills. We must ask what raw talent or knowledge exists, what deficits are present, and what hidden things lie beneath the faces we see day in and day out in our classrooms. This becomes even more crucial when we are talking about providing students growth opportunities outside of the classroom.
The program I (along with a team of teachers) am developing for my district, LEADS, is one such program. We want to help students develop leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and compassion through risk taking opportunities to meet needs on their campus and eventually in their community. At the same time, they will act as ambassadors for our district at district events.
Oh, and they are 5th through 12th grade students learning and growing together.
We are trying to break new ground and do something new- that means that empowerment is not just about the students. It is about the teachers who will guide the students.
I met with two of our teachers, Marina Rodriguez and Lauren Guest, who are working on the LEADS lead team today. We are preparing our first teacher training coming up in January and this was the first meeting where things went beyond recruitment. We talked a great deal about what our role would be as leaders of the teachers and what needs we ourselves needed to address in our first training. All three of us kept coming back to two things, things that are relevant for both students and teachers.
We need to know what their needs are, and we need to create a safe place for risk and failure.
We know that is true for our students, but do we as teacher leaders and administrators ACTIVELY get to know our teachers' needs? Do we create a safety net for their risk taking- and acceptance when they need to step back?
As we talked, it became clear that as much as it is important to cast vision, it is absolutely vital to develop trust and ownership for our educators. The three of us recognize that in order for LEADS to empower students, we must create a structure- and relationships- that empower our fellow educators first.
One of the first- and easiest- things we are doing is in our branding. Our teachers are not going to be advisers, they are Teacher Innovators. We want to inspire and instill a mindset in them that lives for creativity and risk taking. And what sounds more risky and creative- adviser or innovator?
What title could you give your teachers that inspires and empowers?
Secondly, we recognized that we need to gauge where our teacher innovators are in their risk taking journey. We are developing some activities that will test them, and some opportunities for reflection that will allow them a chance to assess just how innovative they are- and how innovative they are willing to become.
What reflective assessments have you offered your fellow educators? Are you aware of their comfort with innovation, or are you just assuming that level?
Finally, we have realized that as lead innovators, we must develop roles for ourselves that SERVE the teacher innovators. We must be to them what they need us to be- we must be flexible and open and willing to spend time behind the scenes to make the students and the teacher innovators the real leaders. We are simply preparing the soil for the fruits they will grow and bear. In short- we must set the teacher and student innovators up for success and allow them to dream big.
How have you set a fellow educator up for success? How or what could you do to empower your own teacher innovators?
I left our meeting today inspired. The three of us understood that the teachers we are asking to be innovators are taking a huge step out of their comfort zone. They are taking on an endeavor that they know little about because it is new, have no idea how much time it will take, and has no guarantee of success. We understand this because we too feel this weight. We know the risk- but we also know the potential.
As teacher leaders, are we modeling risk? Are we asking our fellow educators to do anything we ourselves are not willing to attempt?
It is my sincere hope that the empowerment I am feeling as LEADS takes shape will be contagious for all of our innovators. And I hope that you too will find and spread empowerment on your campus and in your district!
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.