Empower Students to Own Their Learning

Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning
By John Spencer and AJ Juliani
(IMPress, 2017 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

In this fun and easy-to-read book John Spencer and AJ Juliani guide us on a journey to move our students from compliance to empowerment.

If you are one of those readers who usually skips the Foreword, don’t miss this one. This section is an in-depth start to the book – at 47 pages, it’s longer than any other section of the book and contains the foundation for our empowering work.

The authors make the argument that we have moved away from an industrial age in which following the rules and doing well in school guaranteed a good job for life (regardless if that job inspired you and was fulfilling or not). Now hard work (and good grades) alone don’t guarantee success, and the only certainty in the future is uncertainty and the constant need for adaptability.

Preparing students for their future

They further point out that it is not possible (or desirable) to teach all the “knowledge” that we have available or that an individual might be likely to need in their future.

Instead teaching students the skills to seek out, evaluate and use knowledge and empowering them to drive their own learning journey will more likely produce successful, passionate, lifelong learners who may change our world.

Spencer and Juliani are forthright about mission: Our students will need to be self-directed, self-managed, creative risk-takers with an entrepreneurial attitude, and it is our job to prepare them for that future.

Throughout this book the authors provide us with the underpinnings to do the job of empowering our students to chart their own educational journeys and move them into their individual futures. It’s not a fantasy – the authors realistically discuss the possible obstacles to moving to an empowered classroom, including students not being ready to plot their own educational journeys, and give us ideas on how to get them there.

They also remind us that none of us is “average” and that, just like the Air Force discovered about cockpits, we won’t have success until we make our lessons and our classrooms more adjustable for the individual user.

Questions to consider, steps to take

The authors give many guiding questions and simple steps to take on our journey toward an empowered classroom, to help our students make the mindshift from doing school to learning, to make failing (not failure) a normal part of the process, and to teach students how to assess themselves and their peers. We must give students choice and voice, they insist, and we must instill in them that when they choose to stay silent they rob the world of their creativity.

Empower shows us how to prepare our students to be the self-directed, self-managed, creative risk-takers who can become successful. This is the teacher that I aspire to be, to prepare students to be successful in an uncertain world filled with problems for them to solve. After reading this book, I feel that I can be a more empowering teacher. This is a definite read: get this one, and don’t skip the Foreword!

Dr. Laura Von Staden is currently a Middle School Gifted Math and Science teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees in her school district, works closely with the local university, and writes curriculum. She is also a professional development consultant and previously served as an Exceptional Student Education Specialist and as a mentor.

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