The following post was written by Marilyn Jackson, Guidance Counselor, Fox C-6 School District, Seckman High School

We have heard it said many times that “learning is power,” and while obviously this is true, we often do not examine how we empower the learner.  How do we create an inviting atmosphere where students have autonomy? How can they apply the knowledge, skills, and values we have taught them to become moral, ethical people who are committed to themselves and the communities they live in?

In the Fox C-6 School District student empowerment is woven into the fabric of everyday living, everyday learning.  When students are provided meaningful, authentic learning opportunities that spark their natural interests and goals for learning, they are transformed from passive learners to empowered learners.  To empower students means to step away from our comfort zones and let students become the teachers, facilitators, and leaders in our schools.

In the Fox C-6 District students are empowered when they take it to the Summit!  Our annual Student Summit is a unique model to foster student empowerment. Student representatives from each of our 18 schools collaborate with teachers, principals, board members, community members, and superintendents to solve real problems.  Past Summit topics have included bullying, cyber safety, health/wellness, and service-learning.

As students unleash their creativity to formulate action plans addressing these issues within their individual schools, adult stakeholders play a critical part in modeling important skills, helping to teach and facilitate active listening and the delicate process of criticizing ideas and not people. As they dialogue with students, they serve as springboards to take students through the process of problem solving, mirroring back to them their ideas.

Back at their own schools, teachers and principals help students carry out their plans, providing the resources needed to see the plans reach fruition. Each year as we look out across our District Service Center, there is nothing more powerful than to see all stakeholders creating an important, transformational component to the educational process, the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, to student to teacher.  This is just one, pointed approach that we use to empower our students to bring relevance to their learning and development of their character.

Our Student Summit’s success is a direct result of a carefully planned, methodical, and shared leadership approach.  The Summit’s theme is determined by the superintendent and then organized through an assistant superintendent and our district character education leader. The leadership shared between principals, teachers, and students then cultivates the projects to their successful completion.

The rewards from doing such an event are far greater than we ever anticipated.  It has broken down the walls between the schools and brought a small town feel to a district of 18 schools and more than 12,000 students.  We are not working in isolation anymore, but through a shared process that requires and recognizes the efforts of all stakeholders. This is a tremendous hallmark to this event.

Students are given the opportunity to try and even fail.  Staff must walk a fine line as they assist students in planning and leading their initiatives.  Staff must understand the difference of helping versus controlling. Students must be empowered through activities that give them opportunities to be successful and help them acquire the confidence and skills to eventually develop more significant projects.

Starting with smaller projects is critical in achieving the best long term success for students.  Reflection time is also essential for students to practice evaluating their initiatives. This gives them an opportunity to pinpoint successes and weaknesses. To foster student empowerment staff must consider, “How can we effectively prepare our students to be successful, empowered leaders? What skills must they have?”  Once this is determined, proper training of students and staff must occur to bolster shared success in developing students into empowered learners.

One of the greatest values to empowering students is that it results in greater power for the learning community. The alienated student no longer exists. Students who were once passive learners are active learners and are thoroughly engaged in a learning process that taps into their ideas and their voice.  For some students, their school is the only place where their voice is heard.  In the Fox C-6 District student voice is loud and it is heard!

We know that we can develop students who will take their voice and be empowered to teach, transform, and touch those around them in a very profound way.  In the words of our superintendent, Dr. Dianne Brown, “The best data that you can get is from your students.  They are our greatest resource; they live it every day.”

We must have the courage and responsibility to listen to students.  If they are to lead our society, we must be willing to learn from them.  Listen to your students. Give them a voice. Empower them to learn and lead!