Prior to posting on social media the short video that revealed what our mascot would be, I posted the following: “Voting is empowering; it allows for voice. But voting can also be divisive as it creates winners and losers. But keep in mind that we will all be on the same team.” While there was a clear winner in the vote for mascot, it was still close enough that I knew there could be some students unhappy that their choice didn’t win. And so I wanted them to maintain perspective, that soon we will be sharing one building and one mascot.
That said, I also wanted them to know that their voices had been heard. In fact, a parent later posted on Instagram that she knew a lot of parents wanted Cavaliers to win, and the fact that the Tigers won demonstrated that I took their vote and choice seriously. And I did. That was one very public way that students were empowered. They had gained a level of control over an aspect of their future lives.
Empowerment is an important part of the new schools process. Letting students have choice and input on things ranging anywhere from the mascot to the name of the school store and so forth gives them an emotional investment in the school they are about to bring online. It helps them feel less like renters, and more like owners.
But empowerment shouldn’t be limited to just the opening of a school. Empowerment is important throughout the course of the school day and year as well. While empowerment can certainly take the form of student government and leadership, what I am referring to is the second principle of my vision, Engage, Empower, Excel.
Empowering students as learners is essential to nurture the natural curiosity that students are born with but sometimes lose by the time they reach high school. I’ve written before about the importance of having firestarters on staff, and while I stand by that, perhaps the best way to spark that fire is to empower students to pursue their interests and passions. There are obviously standards and set curricula that must be addressed and followed in high schools, but within that, I think there is enough room for students to maneuver and follow what they are interested in: doing so empowers them in their own learning. In other words, when students have more choice in what they are doing (and why), they have more investment in it.
We can help in this by having students start with questions rather than presenting them with answers. With Google always at their fingertips, their time in school must consist of more than a slavish adherence to rote memorization; rather, they need to learn how to develop questions and the skills to explore them. This kind of deep exploration in turn helps them create meaning on their own, and when we can facilitate that and help them make connections, we will have students who are not only engaged but empowered as well.
This is a lofty goal. I understand that. But that is what a vision should be—it should be aspirational, something to strive for. Will we always hit that mark? Probably not. But if we keep that as our focus as a school, as administrators, as teachers, then we will be better positioned to meet it.