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Ensure Teacher Health by Empowering Your Students

Feb 18, 2020

From ways to avoid the teacher hustle to how to make a big shift in your evaluation conversation, we've covered a few novel ways to prioritize teacher health in this series.  My sincerest hope is that in these five posts, which are concluding with this one, you've found nuggets of information or easy techniques to implement in order to put yourself first for a change without sacrificing your effectiveness in the classroom.

Perhaps your biggest allies in ensuring your teacher health are also the ones who might just threaten it the most... your students.

I mean that last statement in the most positive way possible - your students are who you show up for everyday.  Supporting them is the reason you entered this career field, right?  So let's support them in ways that allow you to better support more of them.  And we do that by empowering students inside the walls of your classroom.

When I think about and picture what causes teacher stress, I see the endless to-do list that we all are so familiar with.  The to-do list that really represents all of the integral roles we play as educators.  Each one of those roles holding so much power and influence over the learners in your room - you are the number one influence on your students' academic success after all.

There really is no mystery in what causes teacher stress and overwhelm.  We are responsible for the care and academic performance of human beings ranging in size from small toddler to scaling above me full grown adult, and all their baggage, personality and hormones they come packaged with.  Nope, no mystery to the stress... your to do list starts and ends with the humans you show up for everyday.  Plus some other ridiculousness shoved somewhere in the middle.

 But if teachers focus on student empowerment as their first to-do list item, they will be eliminating countless other tasks.  I'll say it another way... empowering your students, if done correctly and intentionally, fundamentally shifts your role as educator.


In this post I will provide three ways you can empower your students with the goal of helping them take accountability in your classroom, allowing you to be more efficient and more effective.  Sound good?

Here we go...

1. Empower Students in the Content

Even as a certified high school social studies teacher, I do NOT believe content is king in education.  Sure it's what we teach and how students perform in it that matters, but if you don't have the other pedagogical fundamentals down pat, the content will fall on deaf ears.

With that being said, it's even more important, then, that you empower your students in the content while you are able to focus on those pedagogical fundamentals making you and your classroom even more effective than if you were the only one focusing on the content.

So what in the world do I mean by empowering students in the content?

In this day and age, there are so many aspects of a child's life (especially in high school) that take priority over and even get in the way of their education.  Absenteeism is off the chain - that's my very scientific term for kids can use any excuse in the book to be absent as long as an adult calls. No, but seriously, there's also a whole slew of legitimate reasons students are coming to school.  Meaning they are missing YOUR content.

Plus, their responsibilities are through the roof, whether that's raising siblings, being financially responsible for their families as kids, medical issues, counseling and therapy, and the list goes on.

Educators today must give their students opportunities to get the content from their teacher outside of the classroom... lecturing only in the classroom isn't going to cut it.

Empowering your students in the content means that you are partly putting it in their hands.  Now, let me be honest here... I am too much of a teacher control freak to put the content completely in their hands, and that's why flipping my classroom was the happy middle ground for me.

My students were getting the content, from me, in a way that allowed them to move at their own pace and ensured they were in fact getting the content regardless of their reason for being absent whether chronically or every so often.  

Did you get that?  That was three advantages in one sentence - because of one strategy, and that only scratches the surface of advantages in flipping the classroom.  Here they are again

  1. They got the content from me
  2. They could move through the content ("lectures") at their own pace
  3. They got the content even if the missed school

To learn more about flipping I want to support you with a quick guide I created to help kids get started... The Ultimate Flipped Classroom Starter Kit.  My goal in creating this resource is to get your wheels turning on how this technique, when done intentionally and with planning can be exactly the shift in your classroom culture you've been looking for.

Just imagine it, by flipping your classroom - switching when you do what is traditionally done in class (lecture) with what is traditionally homework (practice, higher up Bloom's taxonomy tasks) - you're able to talk to every single on of your students, individually, every single day.  Image the impact and empowerment.

2. Empower Students by Talking LESS

As the teacher, it is your role to step aside and be quiet on most days that you teach.  Cue the anxiety from any fellow teacher control freaks out there.

As difficult as it may be, and as painfully silent as it may be at first, when you close your mouth you are forcing students to fill the room with the talking that naturally should occur.

Now, I hope your teacher skepticism perked up there because I'm sure it's obvious to most teachers that this can be an easy way for classroom management to flow right out the door.  Yep, you're right.

That's why I gave an entire workshop on Student Voice: Getting Students to Talk MORE than You in class.  

There are simple, effective steps to take in getting your students to talk more without losing all your hard earned classroom management.  There are systems that will allow you to do this without having to add even more items on your to-do list as well.  I share all of those in this workshop that you can watch at your own pace, whenever you're ready, and I give you the resources to implement ASAP, as well as a certificate of completion when you're all finished.

Here's the thing.  There's a delicate balance between effective student talk on the content and students just releasing hot air into the room.  It's as simple as when a student asks a question, you don't answer it - you ask students to.  You could even implement Q&A days - every person in the room must ask a content-specific question on a review day before a test, and no one can ask a second one until everyone has asked one.  Getting students to ask questions is a first, huge step in the right direction in getting kids to talk more than you.

Not to mention, you talking LESS will save you all kinds of energy that you can invest in individual students one at a time, rather than 30+ at a time when you address the whole class.

3. Empower Students through Systems

A better way to title this one is "Empower Students by Reducing the Need for You." 

A common mantra I used in my classroom, both as something funny but also completely serious with students is that my goal was to make it to where they didn't need me anymore.  I would often say, "I am NOT the beholder of all knowledge."  I would also say, "There is a way for you to figure that out without me."

I was proud of my relationship and connection with each of my classes, but sometimes that meant that students depended on me, just like they would any other teacher, to a fault.  It inhibited them from taking initiative.

Kind of like at home... if I pick up the shoes in the middle of the hallway every single time, my children will never learn to do it on their own.  

But, the FIRST time they run through that hall, trip over said shoes, and bust their face... they'll never forget to put those shoes away again.

Is learning messy?  Darn straight - and if it isn't, it's not authentic.  At least not as authentic as it could be.

Now, this doesn't mean we have time in the classroom for the messiest, most authentic learning possible - we only have 180 days or so to teach them a ridiculous amount of material.

But you do have time to push your students a bit, to challenge them with tasks that allow them to take control.

To me, systems are the best way to do this, and take even more items off your to do.

There are a few crucial systems I learned in my classroom, but one that I want to impart with you today is student reflection.

Student reflection is one of those things that is first to leave our calendars when the time crunch starts... so we never build in time to do.  I believe we are doing our students and ourselves a huge disservice in this way.

Build a system in your classroom where students routinely reflect on their performance AND effort input.  Reflecting on only one of these without the other is a waste of time.  It's a routine check in and look in the mirror for students so that they are aware of their role in this whole education thing.

It could be some simple reflection questions on their performance and effort on a packet they keep in their binder or in a folder in your room, that they get out after each test.  They could track their test scores on it, and even set goals leading up to a test.

These systems more importantly include the ones that allow your students to run the classroom without them.  If they know exactly what to do when they walk in your room everyday, you're reducing the need for you.  If they know the routines so well that they have to school your sub when you're not there, you know you're on the right track.

Take time to focus on and build up these systems not just at the beginning of the year, but throughout so you're sure they've got them down pat.

Do all of these strategies benefit students?  Of course they do.  It's that dangerous phrase of "do what's best for students" that can be such a slippery slope.  Yes, these systems can be what's best for students, but in this Teacher Health series, I hope that we've made space to see the importance of you in that equation.

Before we close this series, if you haven't grabbed it already, I have a small gift for you.

It's a quick Teacher Health Reflection Guide that I hope will help you in the process of prioritizing yourself in the equation of "what's best for students."

Here's to teaching on a mission.

Cheers to you, my friend,


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