How can teachers inspire learning? By empowering students

“What does this have to do with English?” he asked. “If they’re reading about it and writing about it, then it has everything to do with English.”

One of the rules in Provenzano’s classroom is, “Failure is an option.” He explained: “If we do not risk failure, we will never grow.”

Modeling lifelong learning

Amber Teamann, an assistant principal at Luna Elementary School in Garland, Texas, talked about leveraging technology as a school or district leader.

“I try to model for my staff that we are all lifelong learners,” she said, noting that effective staff development should meet both organizational and individual needs.

Teamann recommended that educators develop personal learning networks via Twitter and other social media. “Sharing is nice,” she said, adding: “There is no reason to recreate the wheel when there is a resource or a practice that can be shared or passed along.”

She urged school leaders to keep things simple. “There are thousands of tools out there. Don’t focus on nouns; focus on verbs,” she advised.

She also said school leaders shouldn’t be afraid to learn from others. She quoted from the technologist David Weinberger, who once said: “The smartest person in the room is in the room.”

Empowering students

Two local educators—Kent Hamilton, an instructional intervention specialist for two elementary schools in Denton, Texas, and Rafranz Davis, an instructional technology specialist for the Arlington Independent School District—were invited to speak at the event through a competition called “Creative Leap.”

Both echoed the theme that when students are allowed to take ownership of their learning, they are much more likely to succeed.

“For me, it’s about empowerment and relationships,” said Hamilton, who is part of a committee whose goal is to identify struggling students “as fast as we can.”

In Hamilton’s schools, every child is tracking his or her own learning with the help of a “data binder” that contains information from every assessment. The students use this information to lead the conversation in parent-teacher meetings, he said, with students explaining, “This is where I was, this is where I am now—and this is where I want to go.”

Hamilton told the story of one student named Corey. “He’s a bright child, but somewhere along the way he convinced himself that he was a struggler,” he said. Hamilton found that Corey had trouble decoding nonfiction text and taught him strategies to overcome this challenge.

Within three weeks, Corey’s mastery had climbed from 32 percent to 72 percent. After eight weeks, it stood at 92 percent—and Corey is now helping to teach other struggling students these same strategies.

Dennis Pierce

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