So What? Now What?

So What? Now What?

I’ve been engaged in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC lately (#IMMOOC) and the topic came up: engagement vs. empowerment.  George Couros asks a compelling question: If you had to choose between compliant, engaged, or empowered, which word would you want to define your students?

If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Think about it: Would you rather hear about changing the world, or do you want the opportunity to do so?

As someone who teaches at an IB school, I know it is our ultimate goal to get students to move beyond the content and into action.  As a PYP coordinator, it is largely my role to ensure that we have horizontal and vertical alignment of curriculum that is significant, relevant, engaging and challenging to ensure that the IB’s mission is being pursued. (below is a snippet of the IB’s Mission statement)

….develop the individual talents of young people and teach them to relate the experience of the classroom to the realities of the world outside. Beyond intellectual rigour and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship, to the end that IB students may become critical and compassionate thinkers, lifelong learners and informed participants in local and world affairs, conscious of the shared humanity that binds all people together while respecting the variety of cultures and attitudes that makes for the richness of life.

I think we’ve done a terrific job at cultivating a school Programme Of Inquiry that is really engaging but I wonder if it really empowers students. For example, as I walk onto the playground, I see plastic water bottles left carelessly from recess or lunch break. I think about how in every Sharing the Planet unit, students are reminded that we are stewards of the Earth. We’ve collected trash and measured it, made art with it, wrote about it, had assemblies and school announcements to raise awareness about it and YET, I see students walk by these water bottles and not pick them up to put them into the recycling bin. All those great units with all the fantastic projects that go along with it!–and I say to them: SO WHAT???! If students don’t feel compelled to change, then somehow we have failed to really educate them.


Those ideas of George Couros really burn in my mind: If engagement is the ceiling–the highest bar–we may be missing the point. Yep, clearly, we have evidence of that here because we must be missing the point if, after all that great learning, kids still leave rubbish and neglect to pick it up in our own schoolyard.

So NOW what?

It has got me thinking: all these student “actions” were probably teacher generated and not student ideas. If an idea belongs to you, then there is an incentive to develop it and sustain it.  I think that is true even for children. They haven’t bought into the concept that our human action matters and they are ones who can make the difference; the idea of responsible citizenship.

I know I’m not the only educator who suffers from this disconnect at their school. In our next staff meeting, I’m bringing this topic so we can inquire into how we can move kids into action, that comes from THEM and not US.  I wonder if others had this problem and what they did to overcome it. How did they move from engaged to empowered? If you have a success story, please share it with me–I’m all ears!


2 Replies to “So What? Now What?”

  1. I love that you are reflecting on the process and instead of blaming the students for not following through, you are looking at what educators can do to change the impact. I don’t have any great answers, but for my students it has helped to have them share their learning and their goals more publicly within the school community. We do morning video announcements each day. I have had my students share their learning through this media, as well as to share the goals they are setting for themselves based on their learning. They have been able to connect with other kids in the school as well ans people are asking each other about how things are going. Almost like accountability partners. It is by no means perfect and we are still in the process of encouraging other classes to put their learning out there. But is is something that we have found has helped in my grade 5/6 classroom.

    1. Thanks Sarah for sharing how you are developing and sustaining student learning! I think sharing what we’re doing is critical in moving the needle forward, so I appreciate your comment. It’s definitely a learning curve for all of us, as we strive to make a lasting impact on our students. And what works well in one school community might not always be the best for another–school culture definitely plays a role–but it’s important to “look under every rock”, sort of speaking, when searching for solutions. In our staff meeting, we discussed a variety of ways in which we could allocate this duty to classes (or house groups), in an effort to pick up rubbish. We agreed that just because it isn’t “our trash” it doesn’t mean that it’s not “our school”. We want to shift the mindset. We are going to put the idea forward to the Student Council to get their perspective and see if they come up with other ideas as well. Hopefully we will get some clues when we speak with kids and develop habits of stewardship.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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