The children of middle and higher income parents are busy shuffling their children from activity to activity. They are chauffeuring their children to art classes, music classes, cooking classes, STEM classes, gardening classes, drama classes, T-Ball, soccer, tennis, swimming and more. On top of that their families participate in family vacations, trips to museums, libraries, and zoos. These trips will reinforce, expand, and enrich the learning of these lucky kids.
But such is not the experience of our low-income students. It was not my experience either. My parents could not afford to give me these kinds of life experiences, but there was a gift they gave me that made up the difference. They empowered me. They gave me the strength of character to know that I was worthwhile and capable. The inner strength to laugh when the high school counselor told me that I shouldn't go to college because I wouldn't succeed and determination to go out and prove him wrong.
As a classroom teacher, I know that my students will come with disparity of experiences. The best tool that I can arm all of the children who will be in my care is empowerment! Many years ago I attended a seminar that changed my thinking towards student academic success, and made me reflect upon my own personal experiences. I was taught that students from even the most meger of circumstances can thrive. I remember a video of a student of two alcoholic parents and devastating living circumstances that continued to flourish as a student in her classroom. How was this so? The student was empowered!
So, how do we empower our own students? Here is my top 10 list:
- Teach children to think for themselves: to make positive and informed choices.
- Teach children how to solve problems.
- Teach children to feel good about themselves.
- Encourage laughter and foster a sense of humor.
- Allow children many opportunities to feel the benefits of intrinsic rewards, while limiting (or, my choice, eliminating) extrinsic rewards.
- Teach children how to ask questions.
- Teach children to be curious, discover, and to create.
- Teach children how to make informed choices.
- Set rules, boundaries, and have high expectations.
- Teach students resiliency: to be decisive and have stick-to-it-ness.
Students who become empowered, resilient beings, are able to overcome insurmountable obstacles. Our job as teachers is to lead them to that end. To fill our lesson plans with opportunities of character development and empowering opportunities.