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5 ways to empower your students

By Team ISTE
May 31, 2016
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The key to motivating students boils down to engagement. And Don Haddad, superintendent of St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado, understands exactly how this happens.

“Once [students] feel they are part of creating something, they are all in,” he says.

Empowerment involves bringing meaning, competence, confidence and choice into students’ daily lives. Here are five ways Haddad and his staff inspire students to learn.

Create digital age classrooms.

St. Vrain Valley went all out when it implemented a 1:1 initiative. Students have access to school laptops or tablets — as well as the district’s learning management system — 24/7 so they can learn anywhere, anytime. Students own their learning.

Provide the right professional learning for teachers.

St. Vrain provided teachers with hands-on training that helped them shift from teacher-led lesson plans to student-centered learning.

Make learning inviting through design thinking, genius hours and passion projects.

Students work together with the help of their teachers and even corporate partners to find solutions to real-life problems. From designing a better drinking fountain for people who use wheelchairs to exploring cures for cancer, St. Vrain Valley’s educators let the kids create their projects.

Let students help choose the course offerings.

St. Vrain Valley has 50 Focus School programs that extend the traditional curriculum, including leadership, international baccalaureate and STEM topics like medical and bio science — all chosen after asking students what they’d like to study. Leaders are setting up partnerships with corporations to create an “energy academy”and will invite business mentors to work with students to develop the facility and curriculum.

Invite students into school design and construction decisions.

It’s not as scary or expensive as it sounds, as Haddad can attest. His district’s assistant superintendent of operations, construction engineers and students hold a one-day joint meeting before every new school launch to explore what kind of environment kids need for optimal learning. In addition, Haddad personally meets with a group of 50 students to get their input.

It’s the first step to avoiding cookie-cutter schools, and a sure-fire way to get open spaces, well-lit facilities, green processes and energy efficiency. For St. Vrain Valley, it also translates to dedicated makerspaces and facilities that connect with people outside the school, too.

No wonder the district is competing for Steve Jobs’ XQ Super School Project to add to its resources. Haddad’s team has already secured a $16.6 million Race to the Top grant and a $3.6 million Invest in Innovation federal grant, thanks in large part to students’ two cents.

Haddad will be the keynote speaker at Lead & Transform: An ISTE 2016 Town Hall on Leadership for Empowering Students. Register today to join the conversation to transform your school or district.