Empower Their Voice


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by HowardLake

It seems that serendipitously, if you are continuing to read blogs, some ideas that may be floating around in my head are made clearer by reading what others wrote.  In many of my conversations with educators and students, we have talked about empowering students to have a voice in not only learning, but to actually make a difference in the world.  Bloggers like Martha Payne and my friend Alyssa have inspired many in different ways through their blogs and by sharing their voice.  In both of those instances though, it was not necessarily a school or teacher empowering them to do this, but a parent who guided and gave them an opportunity.

So why should a teacher give these same opportunities in the classroom, especially with the demands of the profession and often an overwhelming curriculum that we must cover. In an article by Dana Edell titled, “Why Students Should Blog”, she discusses the power of blogging and why it is beneficial to our kids:

Though often more informal than structured essays, blogging can encourage young people to trust that their written words have power and that expressing themselves through written storytelling can transform themselves and our communities.

In the same article, Edell shares the story of a young woman challenging a company on some of the stereotypes that there were reinforcing with their product line and how her voice had made a difference:

Stephanie, 22, wrote a piece in December critiquing a popular toy company’s new line that was marketed for girls. She believed that the company’s pink and purple beauty salon reinforced negative gender stereotypes. She was angry. She wrote about it. Her blog post circulated throughout the blogosphere and eventually garnered a Twitter response from the toy company. SPARK decided to take the issue further and launched a petition that was supported by a dozen more blog posts by girls, expressing their charged opinions about the toys. Mass mainstream and social media attention led to a meeting with executives at the toy company. We have recently seen positive changes from this company, showing us that they not only read our concerns, but also listened and took action. It all started with a blog.

 Pretty neat huh?  A young woman voicing her opinion and making a difference; isn’t that something we want to happen because of schools?

I was then pushed to think about the art of writing from a post I read from Ryan Bretag and how what we do with student blogging  often takes away from the things that we love in the blogs we read (transparency and emotion are two big ones for me):

What makes us want to make everything fit into our preconceived notions of school assignments and activities? Why do we value and appreciate the great blogs that are out there BUT FAIL TO USE THOSE AS MODELS for students and their blogs? Why do we use models so far removed from what we consider powerful?

This is not to say that every teacher is intentionally doing this but the reality is that it is happening.

I get that not all students will be writing at the level of the blogs we read but that isn’t what I’m referencing when I say use those as models. I mean modeling the qualities that draw us time and time again to blogs.

Simply telling our kids what they should blog about does not make them their blogs. It makes them our blogs that the students are simply writing; there is little ownership and it is not something where we empower our students to actually use their thoughts and their voice. 

If we want our students to make a difference in the world (not only in the future but now), and blogging is something that we see as an opportunity for doing this, how do help them take this next step?

Well…here’s one way…

I have been watching Jabiz Raisdana’s work regarding student blogging very closely and he gives some fantastic advice to educators on getting authentic student voice:

Blogging is about trust. Trust takes time. Students must feel safe to become vulnerable and open up. This trust is not built online, but in your classroom, when you are together, as a group, face-to-face. It is built through effective classroom discussions at the table and understanding the power of commenting and conversations. It is building offline spaces that are fun and creative and open to new ideas and projects. It is built by  sharing as much of yourself with your students as you can. Share your music, your ideas, and texts that move you. Share your contacts and friends and model what you teach. Use your network to show the power of networks. Before you know it your students will be writing about all kinds of things…

What I was most impressed with Jabiz was not what he had shared with educators, but what he had shared with his students to build that trust and show his belief in them.  He recently wrote a post entitled, “I Believe“, which he openly shares how he is inspired by his students:

I believe in you. I believe in your voice and your writing. What you write and how you write, right now in your life is you. For better or for worse it is true. If you wait until you are writing is perfect or good or accepted you will be waiting forever. If you wait to be yourself and stand behind your ideas you will wait forever. Confidence is about being happy with who you are and where you are in terms of skills. Confidence isn’t about measuring up to other people’s expectations. I don’t believe in good or bad or ranks or judgements or comparing or anxiety. I believe in confidence through risk and self-esteem through vulnerability. I believe in trust. I believe in communities.

An open, honest, and caring post that models what we would want from our students.  And what does he get from this?  A student that writes an amazingly powerful, courageous and honest post that, at this moment, has over 70 comments from people all over the world inspired by the honesty of his message:

And I envy those people in the Lunch queue who just turn around, talk to random people and become best friends (and beyond) instantly. I find it hard to go beyond my class. And those lunch groups. ARGHHHHHH. I try to join them, but how? Do I just walk up, come up with something amazing to say and just hang out? Because I can never find the right thing to say. And I’m not popular. And people don’t take me seriously…But then there are the endless websites that tell you to be yourself and not change your personality. So now what? How do I change the fact that people go “Oh, what’s Solal doing here?”to my face? And if they say that to my face, what must they say behind my back?

Judging by the comments and honestly, my own feelings, Solal inspired many kids and adults alike with his words. Sharing his experiences of what many of us have gone through, he has shown us that we are not alone.  Again, the thoughtful use of technology can bring people together and humanize us in different ways.

A couple of things here.  Does Solal have the understanding of how to blog this if his teacher does not model it first and give him the opportunity?  Does Solal have the courage to write this post if his teacher does not show his belief in him?  I will be honest here that I believe that we can never really teach this to our students if we do not experience this opportunity ourselves.  Many educators are working with their students to try and give them the opportunity that they themselves have experienced and many educators are starting to wonder what would happen if all teachers blogged.  Our voices matter.

How are you empowering the voice of your students?  Stories like these strengthen my resolve that we have to continue to create these opportunities for our kids to make a difference in our world.  And if it wasn’t for so many that shared their thoughts and stories, I am not sure that I would have been able to write this post myself.

Thanks to all of you that are willing to share.

(If you are reading this and thinking, “I should really start blogging”, here are some links that might help you get started.)

  • coleksyn

    "Empowering the voice of your students". That's the most important line I've heard in a long time. It really is about facilitating and ultimately empowering students to express their own voice.
    Thanks for this post George. You are right that it takes courage, vulnerability and trust to make your voice known, both for adults and children.

    As a parent of a nine year old blogger, I can say from experience that helping children blog is a lot of work! Multiply that in a classroom of many and the time, planning and energy for a teacher is enormous. But what is the pay off? Real learning: in creativity, literacy, self-esteem, connection, essential technology skills and digital literacy, not to mention the most important…helping a child find their voice.
    How much more worthy a pursuit for education than the endless memorization of facts that can simply be looked up?

    As I've watched a good number of educators makes the leap into writing and then openly sharing it, I've seen the inspiration and energy from that pursuit ebb into their classroom. As the teacher learns and grows, so do the students. As the teacher finds their voice it is easier for them to recognize and facilitate the same in their students. As you say, if we are simply telling a child what to write about for the sake of blogging, it is not really their voice they are finding. It is much messier and chaotic to facilitate a child's own thoughts and takes trust on our part as the teacher or parent to let their own words stand and be published. But how much easier to do this if we ourselves have stepped into the vulnerability and modelled such sharing fir our kids.

  • http://colleenmccloskey.edublogs.org/2012/11/10/why-i-want-my-students-to-blog/ Colleen

    I just wrote about this in my blog (we've created blogs a part of my Educational Technology class)

    It is so important to get students to express themselves, and you are right about the modeling aspect. thanks for writing this

  • Justin

    What a great post! I never thought much of the blog other than using them as a tool for the practice of writing. I never thought of them in any other way, but your reflexion has given the blog much deeper purpose and has inspired me to look deeper at their potential. Thank you!

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