We need to start creating more opportunities for teachers and students to share their voices. In her book Empowered Schools, Empowered Students: Creating Connected and Invested Learners Teacher, blogger and Connected Educator Series author Pernille Ripp wrote,
The empowered school is one where all voices are heard, dissenting opinions are valued, and staff is trusted. The principal is not simply the leader, but a voice in the discussion - just not THE voice. Empowered teachers feel they have control over their work environment, that their voice is heard, and that their experience matters. Empowered students know that their opinion matters, that they have control over their learning journey, and that school is worth the time. All of this leads to an environment based on community and trust, where everyone knows they matter (p.4)."
This does not happen often enough. For most of our students and teachers, there is a strong element of compliance in the classroom and school environment. Sometimes it puts so many constraints on learning that students leave the school setting with a sense of freedom, but lack the knowledge to know what to do when an adult isn’t around to instruct them.
It’s one of the reasons why social media can have such a powerful impact on their lives. It’s time to stop focusing on the negative effects of social media, and begin focusing on how to help students understand how they can use social media to improve their learning opportunities, which will ultimately have a positive effect on their personal growth.
In her book, Ripp goes on to provide examples of how leaders can become empowered, and therefore empower their teachers, which we know goes a long way in empowering students. It’s a trickle down effect. If the leader doesn’t always get caught up in compliance, and has a strong belief that teachers and students should have a voice, the school climate will become more inclusive...more positive...more creative.
Sharing power with students is symbolized in even the smallest things, such as access to supplies and where chairs are placed. This is also an easy thing to change for most teachers. Certainly, we all have our ways of how we like to work in the classroom, but physically moving things to promote more ownership is something that can be accomplished in little time with long-lasting effects (p.52)."
So...What Does This Have to Do With Reading?
Empowering students has everything to do with reading. Pernille Ripp is the founder of the Global Read Aloud, which has included over 500,000 students internationally since 2010. On the Global Read Aloud website, which you can view here, Ripp wrote
Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin."
The Global Read Aloud, which runs from October 6th - November 14th celebrates the work of Peter H. Reynolds. On the website Ripp writes,
The premise is simple; we pick a book to read aloud to our students during a set 6-week period and during that time we try to make as many global connections as possible. Each teacher decides how much time they would like to dedicate and how involved they would like to be. Some people choose to connect with just one class, while others go for as many as possible. The scope and depth of the project is up to you. In the past we have used Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, our wiki, email, regular mail, Kidblog, and any other tools we can think of to make these connections. Teachers get a community of other educators to do a global project with, hopefully inspiring them to continue these connections through the year."
But it doesn’t just have to be with teachers. Students and adults can choose to read each of Peter’s books, which would be one a week over a 6 week period. For example, they begin with The North Star, move on to I’m here for week 2, Ish for week 3 and so on... If Peter’s work is not the choice students want to read, then they can choose The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (one of my favorites!), The Fault in Our Stars or several others, and read one of those over the 6 week period.
In order to have a great discussion, the Global Read Aloud has Edmodo groups set up for teachers to connect with one another. HOWEVER, most participants utilize other social media tools as well like Facebook, Skype, Kidblog, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. Over the 6 weeks of the event, students and adults can post discussion questions on whatever social media tool they use...they create hashtags (#) to streamline the discussion around the books, or answer the ones that are already there.
Using all of these tools creates a great way for participants to connect with readers all over the world, share with one another, and learn from one another as well. The power is in the participants and the variety of tools they use to connect.
When Pernille writes about empowering students, this is a perfect example of how she does that. She sets up the dynamic and the power is in how students and adults use it. It’s a perfect way to show the power of social media, and it becomes a positive message for students, because it shows that social media can be used for learning and connecting in authentic ways with others.
In the End
When we talk about student voice and teacher voice, we need more than dialogue. We need to set up authentic ways for this to happen. During the time of the Global Read Aloud, teachers are including their whole classes in the process. All students in the classroom choose one of the books and they participate in different Edmodo groups.
Imagine the discussion that happens in those classrooms? Imagine the Jigsaw type activities that take place when a small group of students become the experts with their book and then have dialogue with their peers about the other books being read. That has potential to be a very enriching classroom discussion.
Pernille doesn’t just talk and write about ways to empower students, she sets up the methods to achieve it, which is why teacher and student voice is vitally important.
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Peter is the Connected Educators Series editor.
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.