Chapter 5, Empower Your Students
The reason I am a teacher stems back from my early roots in elementary school. I loved my teachers! I loved walking into school every morning and being greeted by the friendly faces of Mrs. Ashbrook, Mrs. Dobil, Mrs. Damweber, Ms. Schneck, Mrs. Gall, and Mrs. Madis. I loved the community that these teachers established, and more than anything, loved the school-family I felt part of within in the vibrant, colorful classroom. I am a teacher because I realized that there was no other job for me, other than giving back that same joy and love to kids. When I read chapter 5, I truly felt connected to the empowerment of students. My ultimate goal every day, every year, is to show up my authentic self, and to be seen. I love serving as a role model for my students both in the classroom and in the community, and more than anything I love getting to know my students as learners, and also their families and backgrounds.
As Meenoo Rami says, “Our legacy lasts a long time in children’s lives.” I couldn’t agree more! When I found out I got a job teaching fourth grade, I was thrilled, but the words “fourth grade” made me nervous. It wasn’t because of the age of the kids, or the curriculum, but it was because out of all my elementary days fourth grade was my LEAST favorite. My fourth grade teacher was the only one that I didn’t feel connected to, so my prior experience of fourth grade was a bit less than incredible. Luckily, I overcame this fear quickly, and realized that the grade I teach really doesn’t matter. The type of teacher I would become is a culmination of all my experience, all my super teachers, my great role-models, and my desires to show up in a big way to my students. I often remind myself that my legacy will last a long time.
Part of empowering our kids is teaching them ways to improve. Their job is to show up and gain knowledge. Our textbook discussed that “we must have honest discussions with our students…and yes, these discussions do need to happen…” I know that my first couple years of teaching, I had a hard time giving student feedback. I wanted all my students to love learning and to feel comfortable and successful, so when it came to giving honest feedback, I really struggled. Each year I find myself getting better at having honest conversations with my students, and this year I took some huge leaps towards creating more successful writers. I noticed that this year a vast majority of my kids were afraid to write. Every time a writing prompt was given, or even a quick-write in their journal they’d cringe. Kids would ask to go to the nurse, others would say “I can’t think of anything,” and the few that did get going right away wrote the bare minimum and quickly closed their notebooks. I realized that this was going to be an area that I needed to empower my students, since we had an entire school year together to overcome the obstacles they feared with writing. With the help of my mentor, and talking with some writing coaches, I decided that the fear wasn’t “what to write,” but rather how their writing would be evaluated. I decided to teach writing through the five scoreable domains. I broke down focus, style, organization, content, and conventions and had mini-lessons about each domain. Although I’ve done this in years past, I admit to rushing through these areas of evaluation, since I figured the kids got it. This year, however, I elaborated each domain and enriched my lessons with mentor-text that I found at the library. I brought each domain into everything- our language arts stories, our read alouds, and completely blended writing into every area of study. I was determined to break the false thought that my kids were “bad writers,” since I knew half the battle was getting them to believe in themselves. I also empowered my students by writing each of them hand-written letters numerous times throughout the year. Every couple months I would send each student a quick note to their home address, pointing out an area of improvement. Sharing this feedback with the kids was a great way for them to build trust, but also a great reminder that their hard work in the classroom isn’t going unnoticed. This empowerment was created out of trust, joy, and love but mainly out of co-creation. I took an opportunity to create something new, to take a chance, and to experiment with the ways I was teaching my students. Empowerment can come in many different forms, but the key concept is always the same- it’s giving pieces of our great unique self to others, so that they can thrive!
Chapter 5 stresses that it’s not only important how students acquire skills but it’s also important that they are left feeling empowered. At the end of the year every single student should leave your classroom, wanting to come back tomorrow. This past school year was the best year I’ve ever had. I was able to give my student’s tons of choice, because they could handle it. I was able to do yoga with my kids, and provide opportunities for them to teach me lessons that they created. I know that it was a meaningful year, and I also know that I left them leaving feeling as though they owned their learning. Being in creation with me during this year is something I want them to remember when they think back to their fourth grade year. I want them to remember their student-centered classroom as a safe environment to take challenges and make mistakes.
Benefits of empowerment include creating a lifelong love of education, increasing engagement, and building momentum. I saw my students taking the extra challenges this year when they were early finishers. I didn’t even need to tell them what to do when they finished their work, but instead they just did it. They developed this intrinsic motivation because they loved learning. When I think back to Mrs. Ashbrook, my favorite teacher of all time, I remember her setting these basic fundamentals of empowerment in me, and in her other students.
Coming directly from Meenoo Rami’s, “Thrive,” she summarizes final thoughts to her readers before closing this book. I love the points she makes so much, that I wanted to include them in my Blog to share with you. Those of you who are reading this, I highly encourage you to go pick up a copy of “Thrive,” as it is a quick, enjoyable read that will be one you’ll pull of the shelf every time you feel the need to energize your teaching style.
Perfectly, explicitly stated, here are Meenoo’s final thoughts that sum everything up:
-There are people in your community and network who want to help you. They can help you if you invite them.
-Know your students well so that you can live in peace with the decisions you make or them.
-Although the tools will come and go, how you model lifelong learning will stay with your students long after they leave your classroom.
-Standing still in these times is not an option. Your teaching must change and respond to the evolving world around you.
-You may not see immediate results or gratification with your students, but eventually you will. Watch for the tiny moments and appreciate them.
-You don’t have to follow every mandate put in front of you.
-Teaching is incredibly difficult and is the most meaningful work you’ll ever do in your life. It will change you physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and nothing you’ve ever done before will completely prepare for it.