Powerful Children

 People who have developed a sense of personal power, whose feelings of can-do are strong and highly developed, have little need to acquire power trappings for reassurance. Individuals who feel empowered do not need to exercise power over others nor allow others to control their lives.

– Selma Wassermann, Serious Players in the Primary Classroom, page 9

During a game a child stops to examine a found pump … unhindered.

My time with my students is coming to a close. I have spent 3 years with some of them and as I step back I hope that our new understandings of the world are useful. I hope that our time together leaves a lasting, positive impression. I feel that this might be selfish on my part (that I want our time together to have been meaningful), but if it was not meaningful or if it did not teach us any lessons, then it was not worthwhile. I have always felt that my journey from the third largest city in Canada to teaching in this very village – with a population of 300 or so – was an experience meant for me. It formed a vital piece of my puzzle. Yes, many new teachers move to small towns for their first teaching jobs, but this village, this experience … this was all mine.

The children head towards the salmonberry bushes to pick berries. Instead of being told, “The berries are for the animals,” the children enjoy the pleasure of gathering, eating, and sharing their bundles.

During my time with my students I attempted to lead them softly. I aimed to never be a dictator. I didn’t want my classroom to be reigned by me. I have not fully decided how well I did this, but I do know that I attempted to shadow my students quietly rather than hold their hand and drag them alongside me (potentially kicking and screaming?). I wanted students to feel that they had power over their daily lives, as feeling powerless is a wretched feeling. Feeling powerless can lead to anxiety, worrisome behaviours, downtrodden spirit, and a lack of motivation or an intense will to continually fight the dictator(s).  Handing the power over to the children promotes self-motivated, driven children who follow their passions and, well … shine … however corny that sounds.

“When they [children] are given options, when they are allowed to choose, when their choices are respected, they grow to believe in themselves. They learn that they can do. A sense of can-do and feelings of personal power are thus intimately connected. Children learn to believe that they have the power to make a change, that they have control over their environment.”

– Selma Wassermann, Serious Players in the Primary Classroom, page 7

Student choice was addressed in my Teacher Education program, but from my understanding I thought that as long as I included options, such as how to demonstrate their understanding (test/report/poster…) or choice in what province they wanted to learn about, that I had done my job. But with further reading, teaching, reflecting, and learning I discovered that this wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that the child simply “got” to choose the way to display their work. Applying this theory, I still held a monopoly on the power.

We cannot hold all the cards with respect to choosing and still hope that children will grow as independent thinkers. Growing independent, reasoned, and reasonable adults begins with allowing even very young children many opportunities to choose.

– Selma Wassermann, Serious Players in the Primary Classroom, p. 84

On my last professional development adventure to Telegraph Cove, British Columbia, my principal led us in a discussion around child passions. The inspiration for our conversation and questions we used to drive our conversation forward are from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, which I mentioned in my post Renewal when speaking about the positive effects of nature immersion on ADHD symptoms. Although Coyote’s Guide does not speak specifically about student choice, it lends itself well to the conversation. When a teacher follows student passions they are in affect disregarding their lesson plan and giving students the power to create their own learning.

The adults are asked to set up a track for the children (deer) to bound through. A few children begin to set up their own bits and pieces to the track … the adults choose to help the children, rather than instruct them to continue bounding.

I didn’t start following child passions as a result of reading Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, but I love that it fits in so nicely. It was the work of Selma Wassermann, the inspiration of my mentor teacher, and a result of following my instincts that led me to follow the passions of my students. One of the questions that my principal asked us was (something like) “when was the last time you followed a child’s passion?” For me, it was a matter of picking the best example, not the only example … and I have my mentor and Selma to thank for that.

Reflecting on the past three years, I can’t say that I did a perfect job of shadowing my students quietly. In fact, I can think of many times where I held their hands. I hope that in the future I will do a better job of shadowing. But, for now, I can happily say that there are many examples of shadowing, of following child passions, and of children holding the power.

A child wanders away from the group to go exploring… unhindered.

Sometimes we feel guilty when we abandon our lesson plans, we feel tied to a curriculum that the children had no say in, and we feel a need to accomplish all of the curricular outcomes. But many experienced teachers have told me, “there are no curriculum police.” I live by that. My students live by that. And, as a result, my students academic achievement is high. Why? Because they’re motivated, they’re passionate, they’re driven, and they hold the power to decide.

To read more about ways to facilitate student choice, please read Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Student’s Decide & Serious Players in the Primary Classroom.

Write a comment