I was never a straight A student. I worked hard in order to “succeed” at the game of school. I always wanted to please and excelled at being compliant, the only problem was that this type of learning didn’t work well for me. Memorizing has never been one of my strong points, I’ve always had to truly understand something in order for it to stick. But as I went through school, this wasn’t how things were done. Content was delivered, I was to consume it, and then regurgitate it in a specific format (worksheets, test, one size fits all project, etc.) and that’s what determind if I was successful or not. Those are the experiences that made me feel inferior to my peers. Those are the experiences that made me feel as though I wasn’t smart enough. Those are the experiences that crushed my confidence. I worked hard, but even that wasn’t good enough.
As horrible as this all sounds, a lot of good also came out of it. Not only did it make me want to create better learning experiences for my students, but it also helped me to develop important skills such as resiliency and grit. I learned how to push forward in difficult situations and I learned a lot about myself. But this was in spite of school.
I can remember several specific moments in my learning journey where I felt empowered in my own learning and how this changed EVERYTHING for me. Some of these moments happened through school and university, but most of them happened while on my own. Two of my favourites are when I taught myself how to babywear & cloth diaper, and how to create my blog.
Babywearing and cloth diapers: the problem in my life that I was trying to solve was how on earth I was going to make day to day functioning happen with two newborns, a 20 month old and a 4 year old (and that’s 3 kids in diapers!). My solution lied in mastering wearing my babies so I could continue on with fun activities with the older two, and learning how to cloth diaper so I could save a few pennies on the costs of buying disposables and going through 25 diapers a day! Youtube and facebook groups is where I went to learn and for support and encouragement, both during pregnancy as I learned “in preparation for what was to come” and once the twins were born when I was “in the thick of things”. Not surprisingly, learning these skills was relevant and had real meaning for me and so, I excelled! I was empowered in my own learning.
And then, there’s my newest found passion: blogging in order to dive deeper and reflect on my professional learning. This all started when I discovered and embraced the power of connectedness by joining twitter. Things quickly escalated from there after reading Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I joined the first round of #IMMOOC and my blog was born. I was empowered to teach myself how to create a blog in order to reflect and make my thinking visible. I was empowered to make my own professional learning experiences better for myself. I was empowered to continue growing and to turn my blog into a digital portfolio. This empowerment comes from within, no admin could’ve forced this upon me.
This is what tapping into passions looks like while embracing curiosity and wonder. This is what was lacking in my days at school. This is what learning should look like.
There are so many reasons why I love Innovator’s Mindset, but one of the highlights of this book for me was when George introduced the notion of needing to go beyond engagement and into empowerment. Empower, by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer is the book that I had been waiting for. As I read page after page, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own schooling and wished desperately that empowerment would’ve been at the forefront of my learning.
This is what I want for my students. This is what I want for my own children. Do I know exactly how to do this 100% of the time in and out of my classroom? Nope. Will the process be messy? Most certainly. Will this prevent me from trying? Definitely not… because I know that “epic things happen when you empower your students to own their learning” (John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, Empower).
Let’s make room for empowerment in and out of our classrooms, for our students but also for ourselves. We deserve to take our learning to a new level. We deserve to be empowered in our learning.