There are so many acronyms in education, that it could become a little overwhelming. Not only because they are so many that educators could remember, but because they are often targeted to a specific area, not education as a whole. Although acronyms are meant to be simple to remember, they can often lead us to focusing on something other than deep learning.
For example, many educators love promoting the use of the SAMR Model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition) for technology use in the classroom. The idea behind it is solid; what are you doing with the technology that you couldn’t do before? But the idea that a teacher that struggles with technology is going to start talking about “redefinition” in their use of technology is unlikely, and might even scare them away. I also think that it can also push educators to lose focus on students as individuals, as learning is something that is very personal. For example, if I am the student, and I write a complex novel using a word processing platform, technically that would fall into the “substitution” category, since a student could have simply written the book with a pencil, but would they have done that? I write more now than I ever did as a kid, but I don’t necessarily do something I couldn’t do with a pencil. Does that model sometimes get us to focus too much on what we are doing with technology, and not enough on the personal elements of learning?
I know there is more to the SAMR model than what I am probably suggesting, but I still think that some of the best learning that can happen doesn’t necessarily need Internet access or “technology” in the way that educators refer to it. With so many initiatives in so many places (assessment, healthy living, self-regulation, and so many others), is something focused solely on the use of technology in the classroom helpful or does it become another “thing”?
So I was trying to think of an “acronym” that would be applicable to all aspects of learning, although not all-encompassing of all it’s intricacies. I thought about something that would make people think about how we are getting students to a new level of their learning, and in my head popped up these three words; Compliant, Engaged, and Empowered (CEE). Although I see the three as separate, with empowerment being the most crucial part of this process, they are not necessarily exclusive from one another.
Bill Ferriter really got me thinking about this last year when he talked about how “engagement” and “empowerment” are not necessarily synonymous, and I love this visual that he shared:
And although compliance has become a bad word in education, there are elements of it that are necessary in education and our world today. For example, I look back at my childhood and wish that I would have stuck with piano although it did not make much sense why I would do at the time. You do not get to the “deep” learning without sometimes starting at the surface level. Even if you look at how some people would consider teaching their “calling”, I rarely hear too many teachers talk about their excitement in doing report cards; we often do report cards because we have to, not because we want to. If schools build a culture that focuses only on compliance with teachers, it is not going to be a place where students want to be. Empowered teachers often focus on empowering students.
“What we model is what we get.” Jimmy Casas
In some areas, compliance is never something that a person goes through, as they can be immediately engaged (that was how I felt about learning to play basketball), if compliance is the beginning of learning and maintained throughout the duration, it will also be the end. It is important to move to the point of engagement and ultimately empowerment, although the two are connected.
To try to make more sense of this, I tried to sort “Compliance, Engagement, and Empowerment” into a few areas to go deeper with the idea. I wanted to try to write some quick definitions of each area in their connection with learning, understand what it looks like in school, put it on the “Simon Sinek” scale of understanding the “why”, and then put it into an example of learning in a particular area (using Twitter for professional learning as the example). Here is what I came up with:
As stated earlier, some of the parts are not mutually exclusive. You will not be “empowered” unless you are “engaged”, but you can be “engaged” without being “empowered”. It is also important to note that simply “making” and “creating” does not mean that an individual is empowered. The process of “making” can still be very compliant if the learner does not connect on a deeper level as an individual or see the process as meaningful to their own work. Creating is not simply “empowerment” unless the learner sees value to what is being created and connects with the learner on an intrinsic level. Also, being empowered is not necessarily something that is achieved in all areas of learning, but if it is never achieved with a student, then why would they ever want to be in school. Being “empowered” shows the student they are valued for their strengths and passions. This is essential to success in all facets of school.
What is also important that this acronym (for lack of a better descriptor), is not exclusive to technology, nor should it be. I asked a friend to put in their thoughts with the same table on the subject of learning “dance”. This is what they came up with:
Remember “square dancing” when you were in school (or was my school the only one doing this)? That is something that I did because I was told to do, and even though we “choreographed” our own dances, this was not an “empowering” time for us in school. Looking back, I wonder if this was taught because “dance” was in the curriculum and this was the easiest way to teach us, because I am not sure why we spent so much time every year doing this. Now with all of the different options that we have to learn different styles of dance from sources like YouTube, from people all over the world, it is more likely that there will be something that our students will connect with, and want to create on their own. I have seen our students want to dance more than I ever did, and I think options matter when we are looking to empower our students.
This idea is in it’s early stages and I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but with all that we do in schools, I am hoping that this is simple enough to help us think about how our learners feel about their experiences in school and what we are creating. I am hoping “simple” leads to “deep”.
Motivation is key to learning, and this table could be used easily in terms of leadership (I am planning to write about that in the near future), but in school, compliance should not be the standard that we are looking to achieve, and engagement is not enough. A student that is empowered will know that they are valued and are more likely to be successful in so many areas. That is the ultimate success.