Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer
“We are not put on this earth for ourselves, but are placed here for each other. If you are there always for others, then in time of need, someone will be there for you.” – Jeff Warner
Many teachers believe that what can make teaching productive and interesting is their personality. Or a good textbook. Some teachers also believe it is the technology they use in class. But although all of them may be right in their own way, the truth is that the answer is different. It is something intangible. What can truly make your teaching interesting is empowering students?
What do I mean by empowering students? Well, first of all, it is giving students strength, desire, and motivation to persevere in their learning. Learning is difficult sometimes but it does not have to be that way all the time. Learning can also be exciting and breathtaking. In this short article, we are going to discuss useful strategies that you can employ to empower your students. So let us have a look at them.
Involve your students by encouraging them to discuss “real problems”
Many students complain that what they are learning in class is not very useful when in the world outside school. While it may seem so at first, it is not the case. And it is your job as a teacher to demonstrate to your students that what they are doing is actually quite applicable in the real world. Incorporate activities in your class that will demonstrate to your students the utility of skills that they have acquired. You can do it in many ways – you can encourage your students to do volunteering work, or better yet, set up classes with debates. Offer your students topics that are currently discussed in newspapers, magazines, and on TV. It would also be good to find out what seems especially exciting to your students. So not only will discussing these topics be useful to them, but it will also ignite their interest in learning.
Although some teachers may feel unwilling to give their students free reign during class – and organizing debates certainly implies a form of freedom – the results can be truly spectacular. First and foremost, students will immediately feel that the knowledge they have acquired in class is actually something they can relate to. It is something that they can elaborate on and it is something that is not as boring as it once seemed to them.
Another good idea in that regard could be encouraging students to discuss problems in your local community. This is something that will truly empower your students and help them rekindle their interest in learning. Not only will they feel that they are learning something, but they will also feel that their opinion is going to make a difference in the place where they are living. Knowing that you are making an impact is gratifying and empowering.
Empowering students means many things. It is about helping them realize that they should take responsibility for their own learning and that learning is about enjoying their journey and not achieving a high score on their test.
Encourage your students to participate in creating classroom rules.
In our previous Shiminly articles we have already talked about the importance of establishing classroom rules. They give your students a clear understanding of what is expected of them and what consequences they will face if they break the rules. A very good strategy to empower your students is to involve them in the process of creating rules. How is going to positively affect them?
First, if students have participated in the creation of classroom rules themselves, then they will be more likely to follow their own rules. Such rules will foster a feeling of community in your students and will make them have a very different attitude to going to school in general. Of course, you should take part in creating classroom rules too, but only as a facilitator and supervisor. If your students want to introduce a rule, they will have to explain why this rule is important: how does it support students’ learning, how does it promote respect and other essential values of any other community?
If you see that your students are getting off track or struggling to create effective and useful rules make them brainstorm questions that will make their task easier. Ask them what kind of rules there should be in class to encourage respectful communication. Why is respectful communication needed in the first place? What rules should be there to encourage respect for the school’s materials and desks? What rules should be there to encourage students to prepare for their class thoroughly and consistently?
Finally, students should ask themselves what sort of treatment they want to receive from others and what kind of freedom they would like to have in class. The list of these suggestions could be endless but it is important for you as a teacher to evaluate the needs of your students as well as your strategies for teaching them.
Create a more student-centered classroom
Student-centered class is essential for empowering students and making them think critically as well as independently. Instead of lecturing your students, let them do all the work. You may say – or that is lazy teaching. But it is not. And you should not be afraid of creating student-centered classes. If you are not sure how to promote a student-centered approach in your class, you can check out our Shiminly articles.
One of the best ways to create a student-centered classroom is to let students work in pairs. For example, after you have explained the material, pair the students up and ask them to check each other’s understanding of the concept that you have just learned. Encourage stronger students to teach those students who are struggling. While they are doing peer teaching, monitor what they are doing to make sure that they are on the right track. Finally, you need to remember that it is not always good to be the expert in the room. While, by all means, as a teacher you have knowledge and expertise, your students can also teach you something. And let them do that. This will help you bond with them and create a productive rapport, based on which you will be able to keep empowering them.
Finding out what your students are passionate about is another key to empowering them and making them feel empowered
When you know what your students are passionate about, will help you to engage them. It will help you to create a subject that they will be happy to discuss. For example, if your students are passionate about economics, ask them to plan the budget of the city where they are living. Or if your students are passionate about zoology, take them out to a near zoo.
One more thing that you can do is to allow your students to assess each other’s work. You don’t have to do that often – but that may help your students develop critical thinking and the ability to see mistakes in their own work as well as in the work of their peers. Of course, you need to establish clear guidelines on how such peer assessment should be done.
Empowering students is crucial in many important ways. First, students will do better in class. They will be more active and they will be more willing to contribute to discussions in class. Secondly, there is one more, no less important point. Students who feel empowered have in mind not only their own needs but the needs of the community they are living in. Empowered students are more capable and they are more likely to become active members of society. They know what their values are and what they want to do in life.
Students who feel empowered think that they can do more. They go the extra mile to help their community.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.