Eduporium Weekly | Empowering Teachers in the 21st Century

  • Posted on: December 24, 2016 - 5:00am
  • By: alarmand

In 21st century education, teachers have one simple job: Prepare students for a world of technology, hands-on work, and the unknown. Most educators know the importance of equipping students with the skills they will need for success in the “real world.” It’s usually their lack of resources, not their quality of instruction, that impedes this process. Teachers can only do so much with outdated teaching tools, yet everyone still expects them to mold proficient pupils. It’s time teaches are given more power to expand their classrooms and, in the process, shape Future Ready students.


Empowering Teachers Leads to Better Ideas in the Classroom

New technologies and abilities of those technologies is constantly pushing teachers to expand their own skills and has led to them often being thrust into new roles. Technology has allowed teachers to take control of their own professional development, share their original lesson plans around the world, and collaborate with teachers near and far. Thanks to educational technology, teachers have easy access to information that has empowered them to think and teach differently, expanding the possibilities in their classrooms at the same time. A lot of the time, teachers make use of their professional learning networks (PLN) and develop lasting relationships with colleagues who teach them all sorts of new tricks. Unfortunately, most of these innovations never make it into their classrooms.

Due to bureaucratic restrictions or perhaps cost predicaments, these innovations are rarely converted into usable tactics in the classroom. This often leads to tension between teachers and administrators, something we shouldn’t have to tell you should be avoided at all costs. Building a unified front can be tough, but there are ways to get it done so that everybody involved is rewarded with a positive result. One way to do this is through distributed leadership. This means that no one person at the top makes all of the decisions (the opposite of a dictatorship essentially). Under this model, administrators and superintendents delegate some of the decision-making power to the teachers themselves, often entrusting them with crucial responsibilities. Principals must, in turn, respect the decisions made by their faculty and the educators must really take ownership of their actions.

When teachers are given the chance to run with one of their ideas, chances are they will put in a full amount of effort. With a full amount of effort dedicated to their cause, such as implementing a new tech tool, for example, we all know that it will likely turn out exceptional. As soon as administrators see the positive effects of a teachers’ self-directed learning initiative, like students engaged, smiling, and working together, the door is open for future collaborative projects. Throughout this pilot so to speak, teachers are also able to learn a lot. They’ll start to gauge what they're good at as well as begin trusting their own capabilities. Teachers who truly believe in the 21st century way of doing things (hands-on learning, technology, collaboration) are not going to give up so easily when trying to get their ideas for best classroom practices implemented and nor should they. At the same time, it just takes a little bit of trust from school leaders in order to see just what the teachers with the fresh ideas are capable of accomplishing.


Empowered Educators Enable Engaged, Higher-achieving Students

Students learn best when they’re engaged. Teachers generally know what will and will not engage their students and tend to design their classrooms to accommodate these factors. We know, as well as the most experienced teachers, that children learn best when they are placed in open, trusting, and engaging environments. Educators have the abilities and wisdom to create these innovative environments, drawing on firsthand experience to include the key variables that help maximize learning. The problem is that they are not always given this opportunity to help their students grow and succeed. Without teachers, there’s not really anybody left to ignite student interest and curiosity and without use of some of the most important contemporary tools, teachers are not always able to reach their students effectively.

Teachers who are sufficiently prepared and equally as curious as their students succeed more commonly at engaging children. When teachers are more in tune with their teaching strategies, student engagement tends to increase as well. If we want students to have access to the best education possible, schools and districts need to start giving teachers access to the same types of education as they want for their students. Learning that centers on collaboration and innovation is what will help teachers engage their students more effectively. They just need to be given the go-ahead to try new things in the classroom. This can be achieved, among other options, through professional development, during which teachers can work on tactics to engage children using more creative methods. On top of being given permission, teachers need to know some of the best ways in which they can try new things to empower their students.

Teachers want to give kids the opportunity to try project-based learning as well as collaborate with their classmates while using meaningful technology whenever possible. In getting away from the traditional lecture-style classroom and implementing more inquiry-based learning, teachers have a much greater range for leading impactful lessons. With more relaxed parameters for learning, teachers are able to challenge students and provide them with real-world context. In these kinds of environments, educators are able to promote risk taking without students fearing failure. So, while many teachers want to create an educational experience that resembles these conditions, it’s often left up to their administrators to give them the green light. Knowing all the facts is important for admins who are tasked with making these types of decisions, and they should always keep in mind that active learning equals increased engagement and teacher suggestions usually create more conducive learning environments for kids.


Inspiring and Empowering Teachers Through Instructional Design

Educators today have more tools available to them than they sometimes know what to do with. They are usually able to discern which technologies are useful for their classrooms and which may be more of a distraction for students rather than an asset. It’s also about knowing how to use these technologies correctly and effectively and being able to teach children how to get the most out of them on a daily basis. Teachers should always do their research on a tech product before they ask administrators for permission to teach with it. It’s very important to know exactly how each new tool will help in improving instruction in classrooms, libraries, makerspaces, and/or computer labs before giving it a go for real. And, it is with this knowledge that comes teacher empowerment.

Teachers who can use the tech they find useful to improve instructional practices increase the likelihood of getting their EdTech initiatives approved by admins. They also become increasingly valuable to the schools and districts who should be looking for teachers with this kind of future-focused approach. Instructional design is known as an approach to teaching in which educators employ known and verified learning strategies into their instruction in an effort to help make learning easier for students. In other words, if teachers know how to use a specific technology tool to increase student engagement or bolster retention, they will be able to make learning easier for kids. Technology allows teachers to practice more effective instructional design because of its versatility and greater reach. Using EdTech, teachers are able to create learning experiences that cater to the specific abilities and academic needs of each of their students.

Technology use is all about finding new ways to reach students. Taking this into account when perfecting instructional design practices often leads teachers to hunt for products that enable one of the latest trends in learning: gamified experiences. Game-based learning is an emerging tactic for engaging students through learning that feels more like playing. Good game-based learning eliminates pass-and-fail grades and instead focuses on having students reach specific goals through valuable teacher feedback. In their instructional design training, teachers are able to begin learning what to look for in these situations and should become well-versed in realizing what is valuable information to note. When teachers are empowered to use their unique skills to create instructional learning experiences for their students that are shaped by their own learning experiences, students are faced with a more challenging program, don’t fear failure, and, usually, leave the classroom with a positive attitude.


Transforming Classrooms Through Teacher Empowerment

The best learning happens when students are given the chance to get creative. As wonderful as it would be, creativity doesn’t just happen. It’s not a skill that teachers can just impart on their students. They have to create the conditions to allow creative learning to flourish. This conversation will, one way or another, tend to circle back to schools and districts allowing their educators to try new things in the classroom, use new tech products, and attempt to engage their students in innovative ways that bring their creativity out. In order to get students to learn the skill of creativity, teachers need to be given the opportunity to create the space for them to succeed. Whether that’s dabbling in robotics, building an inventive makerspace, or simply allowing them to choose what they want to learn for a couple hours each week, in the 21st century, teachers should be afforded more control.

Usually, the best teaching is that which is based on exploration. When faced with teacher proposals for new ways to invigorate learning, principals should take a step back and try to rediscover what makes a dynamic educational experience happen. In order to empower their students with the skills of the 21st century, teachers first need to be empowered themselves. Having an inventive school vision is great, but it doesn’t mean much if administrators are tying their teachers’ hands and not allowing them to implement anything new in their classrooms. Technology is incredibly relevant in today’s learning and teachers tend to know this. Principals and district leaders know things as well, like the fact that it’s often much too costly and time consuming for it to be implemented in instruction regularly. How, then, could they expect their teachers to teach at their highest level if they take away one of their most valuable tools before they even get started?

Teachers are tasked, usually with very few meaningful resources at their disposal, with unlocking the dormant creativity that’s inside of their students. And, did we mention, they’re expected to bring it out effectively. Whether it’s through grants or earmarking a certain amount of money each school for teachers to use on empowering technology, it’s time for administrators to step up and allow teachers to transform their classrooms. If only it were that easy. Well, we will just continue to describe some of the benefits students get when engaged in active learning throughout the school year. Their creativity blossoms when they can collaborate on meaningful projects. They can reflect more effectively on what they’ve learned when they're more engaged than they usually are. And, teachers can make these things happen if they’re just given the permission.


How to Empower Teacher Leaders

Teachers can accomplish a lot of amazing things when they are given the power to work freely. It’s working to create and keep this power, however, that’s usually the challenge. When they’re given control of their classrooms, including the teaching methods and technology they use, teachers are better able to accomplish their goals with their students. It’s imperative that teachers and administrators work together to create a coherent system in their schools, which benefits both them and their students by emphasizing quality content, learning experiences, assessments, and professional development. To create the dynamics that lead to these conditions benefitting students, school leaders can approach it in a couple of different ways, which each have some important benefits.

Traditionally, curricula contain common lessons that incorporate common requirements and are supposed to be designed as essentially as a one-size-fits-all blanket to teach every student. While it’s easier to create these types of curricula, the problem with them is that children today all learn in different ways. Teachers need variety in their lessons and students, a lot of the time, need personalization. With the old way of doing things, teachers pretty much had a script they had to stick to and this stifled their freedom. Today, teachers want active learning happening in their classrooms. They just need the support and the permission to try new things. It’s true that personalization in the classroom creates a bit more work for everybody, but wouldn’t it be worth it in the long run? If students are being taught in an outdated way for years, they will still need to learn in the most efficient way at some point. Teachers have the opportunity to make that happen from the moment they step in their classrooms.

Principals should be able to decide what instructional methods their teachers are going to use in the classroom. With this flexibility, teachers are able to feel more empowered. By taking matters into their own hands, school heads are able to proactively improve the quality of learning in the school. It’s nice when cost isn’t an obstacle for schools, as this allows teachers to obtain the specific tools they need, like iPads while other teachers need Chromebooks for their projects, but this, of course, is rarely a perfect transition. It’s important for admins to remember that teachers have resources, though. They can tap their professional learning networks and find suggestions from fellow educators for how to get exactly what they need. It will continue to come back to teachers getting the go-ahead from their school or district leaders to use the tools that will best prepare students for the future. With the new year, comes new opportunities and it’s time that teachers are given the power they can purposefully use to help spark meaningful change.


We wish all teachers, parents, students, educational professionals, and families a very happy and safe Christmas and Holiday Season!


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