Set Up a Student-Empowered Classroom


Stations are set up around the room. Technology in some places, crafts in others. One corner by the bookshelf is adorned with throw pillows or beanbag chairs, and there are tables all over the room instead of rows of desks.

Sure, one or two one-armed bandits are there for students who prefer to work alone, but the room embraces autonomy and collaboration, and it's evident as soon as kids walk in the door.

When a student walks into a traditional classroom lined with rows of desks, teacher's desk at the front, there is a power expectation that clearly delineates who's in charge and who role the subordinates play. It's a passive role that doesn't force students to take ownership of what they know and can do.

As the education landscape continues to shift, we need to do whatever it takes in our communities to empower those whom this experience is all about, the students. Regardless of the policies currently in place or the way it has always been done, we need to put the needs of our learners first, and the way we do that is to empower our kids through a student-centered approach to teaching.


Of course, if the school ascribes to a philosophy where teachers are empowered first, it will undoubtedly model expectations for empowering the students. Simply put, empowered teachers empower students, and great leaders know this and embrace the idea.


So how can you empower students in your learning spaces?

Consider the following:


  • Give students a say in how they learn. Get to know your students well. Understand how they best process information and develop skills and allow them to make the choices as to how they go about completing tasks. There is never only one right way to do anything, and since every child is different, we must be flexible with the methods we allow students to employ while learning.

  • Give students a choice in what they learn. Although we may have more flexibility with how there are always ways to get student choice involved in the what of learning as well. Whether it is the articles we ask them to read or other texts or the questions they choose to ask about the content we provide, students should be partners in the specific inquiry happening in our shared learning spaces.

  • Include students when designing the learning space. This doesn't have only to include the physical space we create but also where and how students sit. When we let kids choose where they sit and how they do, we are telling them we trust them, and we honor their desires. Comfortable and safe learning spaces breed risk-taking, which is essential for real learning. Once we develop a safe learning space, students are more inclined to trust each other and explore more.

  • Teach students to reflect and self-assess so they can be a part of the assessment process. Kids know what they know and can do, and when we give them a forum to tell us, we open a dialogue together around what learning looks like and where they need more help. Students can reflect before, during, and after learning experiences and then can assess themselves against the standards. Teachers should consider these reflections when determining what students know and can do and providing feedback accordingly. This way, kids can set their goals, and we can provide appropriate strategies based on their perceived needs.

  • Teach and allow students to provide peer feedback. Once students know how to provide excellent feedback, they can be great partners and helpers to their peers. Empowering them to give this feedback helps them help each other, which builds community.

Students thrive in learning environments that value them as learners. The more control we relinquish to students in that learning process, the more we encourage them to own the outcomes that they progress toward. School shouldn't be about predetermined curricula and testing, it should be a student-directed/driven experience that empowers kids to embrace their successes and failures.


How can we more effectively empower students to own their learning truly? Please share


This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in August 2016

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