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Dr. Steven Wurtz

Chief Academic Officer

I love to read. Recently, I saw a post on social media that shared how you can spot a person who loves books. It made me chuckle to myself as I read the cited “evidence”.

  • Reads several books at one time…
  • While also having a stack of books to read next and… 
  • Keeps a running list of even MORE books.

I guess it’s safe to say that I am guilty as charged – I love having my nose in a book. Why do I enjoy reading so much? To me, books are a special way of communicating. The act of reading words slows us down and gives us a chance to consider new things without immediately feeling inclined to jump to a response. We can reflect and chew on things that challenge us within the quiet of our own mind. Books invite us (sometimes even boldly) to consider new ideas that stretch our thinking and expose us to concepts that we may never have thought about otherwise. They reveal new truths that we may sometimes fail to see and force us to reconcile the gap between the world we perceive and the reality around us. Books teach us about people and cultures. They invite us to be pliable and to grow. They challenge our assertions and expand our possibilities. The benefits of reading are endless!

True to form, I was actively in search of a new book and I came across a title that read, “Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.” The word empower grabbed my attention. My mind immediately began processing the word and started analyzing what the author potentially intended by its use. I thought about the relationship between the word own and the word empower. How are these two words connected? Can a person be empowered without ownership? Does ownership generate empowerment?

In the forward of the book, George Couros created a strong visual that represented the continuum of student agency. On one end of the spectrum was compliance. On the opposite end was empowerment. Somewhere in the middle he notated engagement. What an interesting idea! Empowered students are one step further beyond simple engagement in the development of their agency. They are not only engaged in the learning process, but also have the space, tools and permission to own their work. The book’s authors, John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, go on to say, “The best educators have always tried to empower their students. They know that if you are truly good at your job as an educator, eventually the students will not need you… To develop ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ we need to develop them as leaders today.” 

How do we empower students to own their work and be self-starters? To start, student ownership is a mindset. It is a shift from a compliance mindset to one that is self-directed. Spencer and Juliani state, “Not every student will become an entrepreneur, but they will all someday need to think like one… They may not invent a company, but they will have to invent and reinvent their jobs in order to stay relevant. In other words, they’ll need to be nimble.” 

So what can we do to help students learn the skills of a self-starter?

Spencer and Juliani suggest the following:

INSPIRE THEM

Students take initiative and are eager to participate in things that matter to them. Tap into their interests. Get to know your students and learn about what makes them tick.

CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SELF-STARTING

Carve out some time in the instructional week for students to have opportunities to self-start on their own learning. For example, have an inquiry-based Wonder Day or Genius Hour where students can choose the topic, genre and format for learning.

PROVIDE THE TOOLS

At times, students have ideas but lack the tools and resources to see them through. Let’s work to support their initiative by providing the tools for students to pursue the things they are most passionate about.

ENCOURAGE CREATIVE RISK-TAKING

Growth mindset is key to being a self-starter. Encourage your students to take risks and to accept failure as part of the learning process. Even the greatest inventions of the world came from lots of trial and error.

MODEL THE THINKING PROCESS

Show students how you are a self-starter in your own life. What are some ways you personally take initiative and how does that impact the positive way you see yourself?

AFFIRM IT

Acknowledge when you see your students being self-starters and reinforce the behavior. Practice over time builds strong habits.

HELP THEM FIND A COMMUNITY

Self-starters are connected to others. They network with peers and mentors. Finding opportunities to expose students to leaders and self-starters within the school and community can help them understand themselves and envision their future impact. 

In the Arlington ISD, one of our cultural tenets is to own your work. By empowering our students to own theirs, we are inviting them to use their learning to make a difference. And that is what education is all about!