I read this great post from Deidre Roemer recently, where she discusses a letter she received from a former student. With deep reflection, although the message was very complimentary of the student’s time with Deidre, I appreciate Deidre’s self-reflection on what she read:
When I read the letter the first time, I felt really good about what I had done for J. I read it again and realized where I almost got it right. So much of what she said in the letter was about what I had done for her. I engaged her in school in a way that connected to her and helped her grow. What I did not do for and with her was empower her to take charge of her own learning. I moved into a leadership position in our district at the end of that school year and she struggled. Too much of her education and success was dependent on me and what I was doing for her. What I needed to do was do things with her to empower her to take charge of her own learning. “Mrs. Roemer has left my school and barely has any time to come and visit I‘ve had some troubles paying attention in my classes but sometimes I just have to try and manage without her.” In his book, Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros said, “Engagement is more about what you can do for your students. Empowerment is about helping students to figure out what they can do for themselves.” I definitely engaged J and sometimes empowered her, but not often enough that she could do it when I was not there. Her learning should never have been about me. It should have been about her.
As I thought back on my time with J, I wonder if I had had more time with her if I would have been able to help her move from engagement to empowerment. In his new book, Innovate Inside the Box, George wrote, “ “It’s okay, good even, to look back. Just make sure that you are practicing meaningful reflection, not self-loathing. Reflecting empowers you to move forward and take action instead of getting stuck in that cycle of regret or jumping into the hamster wheel of rushing forward and not even taking the time to look back.” It is important to reflect on that time with J so that I am able to move forward in the work I am doing now. I get to work with teachers and leaders to help them understand how to connect to students, understand them from an empathetic lens, and help them to grow in their abilities to self-advocate and be agents of their own learning.
Such a great post from Deidre, and I appreciate her reflection and vulnerability in sharing (here is the whole thing). I know Deidre and the work that she and her team do in West-Allis Wisconsin, and I believe one of the reasons they are doing so many great things is because of their ability to reflect on the past to move forward.
A few things I was thinking while reading Deidre’s post:
1. Every educator, including myself, always looks back and wishes they could do more for their past students. Of course, we can’t go back in time and have a “redo” but what I have focused on is learning from “what I could have done” and shifting that to “what can I do now?” As Deidre modeled in her post, reflection to move forward is a vital part of not only education but growing as people.
2. Too often, when I hear people talk about “empowerment,” they talk about the “stuff.” For example, “our students are empowered because they have their own Chromebook.” Or, “our students are empowered because they get this cool opportunity to do _______.” These are great opportunities but do not lead to empowerment on their own. Innovation and empowerment are not about the “stuff” but the voice, choice, and ownership of the direction by the learner. Engagement and empowerment do not work in contradiction but are intertwined in their importance. But engagement is a step, and empowerment is the goal.
3. We can’t create a culture of empowerment in schools for our students when practices for staff are about compliance. For example, “We want you to empower students and help them find their way, but you have to follow this script for your teaching.” That doesn’t make any sense. Empowerment starts with the adults. I love this quote from Kate Morgan; “Reaching a goal isn’t just about success; it’s also about the process.” The journey (process) of education should be as important as the product, if not more so, for all learners.
A great post from Deidre that made me think about the importance of helping students and staff find their way.