Life-long Learning

Are we engaging or empowering our students?

“Engaging or Empowering” by Bill Ferriter

I recently saw this post on a blog I follow by Bill Ferriter, a middle school teacher, blogger, and educator. In it, he poses some interesting questions:

Are we as educators focusing our effort to get students to “buy-in” to our ideas? Or are we interested in empowering our students so they have to feel ownership for their own learning?

Are We Engaging or Empowering our Students? Continued…

Ferriter states that he had previously thought about these two words as interchangeable, but is now questioning that idea based on the fact that it “hints at the dysfunctional power relationship between students and teachers”. This is a good question.

I entered education because I LOVED learning, but often hated school. If I had a teacher that valued and supported my own drive to learn, I excelled. If I had a teacher that demanded that I prioritize their content and interests above my own, I struggled. For example, when I was in middle school I remember hating most academic subjects. I felt angry that the sole curriculum of my U.S. History class included only old white male protagonists. My literature classes were filled with reading books written by authors of a similar sex and hue. Where were the women? Where were the African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos that made our country great? Why did we always run out of time before getting to the “civil rights” portion of our textbooks?

Thankfully, I made it to college, where I found a more diverse range of ideas and authors to study. Reading Alice Walker and bell hooks, taught me that the most important learning happens outside of the classroom. Through books, I connected with a wide community of thinkers, writers, and artists and educated myself.

This is not to say I have not had GREAT teachers. Why were they great? Because they respected me enough to nurture my own love of learning. They empowered me to gain the knowledge and skills I needed to grow.

EMPOWER vs. ENGAGE…. Instead of talking about “student engagement” we should aspire to empower our students.

This important distinction also holds true for teacher professional learning and parent leadership efforts as well. Are district and site leaders “selling” ideas, or are they empowering teachers and parents gain the skills and knowledge that will allow them to follow their interests, feed their passions, and achieve their goals? Are we engaging or empowering our students?

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