Student empowerment is a buzz word I often find myself using when I describe my goals as a teacher; however, tangible examples of how to facilitate empowerment in classrooms can be hard to articulate. I have the fortune of taking off my educator cap these days, and instead wearing a student cap, and in doing so am experiencing empowerment (and disempowerment) from the student level, rather than the facilitator level. It is an enlightening experience.
Last week, I walked out of EdCamp Victoria (www.edcampvic.ca), a user-generated conference or unconference, feeling empowered. I was inspired and engaged. I was accountable for my learning and my contributions to other’s learning. I was part of an approachable, collaborative learning network.
Upon reflection, I believe that it was the structure, more than the content, of EdCamp that felt empowering. In sessions, I had the opportunity to share the floor with teachers, administrators and superintendents, posing questions and offering my thoughts. Sharing the floor was not about a speaker’s credentials, but rather about a desire and accountability to add to the synergy to the discussion. Knowing that I had a voice regardless of my experience, I listened as engaged as I would have been if I had been a presenter. I felt empowered by the unconference model of valuing the collective intelligence of diverse perspectives, in contrast to the conference model of valuing the individual intelligence of an expert presenter.
The empowerment I felt at EdCamp is what I wish students could feel in their classrooms, leading me to think of ways that unconferencing could be used in schools. How could the unconference structure help me break down the idea of teacher as expert, open the floor to non-hierarchical collaborative learning, and honour the wealth and diversity of knowledge of the students in the room?
Running with this idea, I envisioned the beginning of a school year starting like an unconference. What if students could suggest topics, subjects and themes they would like to learn? They could vote on their interests, and co-create an agenda for the year’s learning. On a smaller scale, what if a project like a novel study was arranged as an unconference, where students could suggest aspects of the novel they wished to discuss and then engage in collaborative discussions? What if students arrived for the day prepared to help co-create knowledge, rather than be a recipient of knowledge?
Luckily there are great examples of teachers using EdCamps in elementary classrooms!
Here is an article about a teacher initiating an unconference with her Grade 4 class:
Here is a blog post about a teacher’s experience of a kids EdCamp:
Here is a site dedicated to using EdCafe structures in classroom learning: