Empowering Students

On Friday of last week, a Northstar staff member walked into the ARCTIC Zone’s double-room to drop something off for me. When she entered the room, I was seated next to a student, assisting with a math problem online. She approached me, looked around, and asked me, “How do you get them to work like this?” 

I looked around the room. At the time, there were probably about 20 – 25 kids spread out in different locations. Some were on the floor, some in comfy chairs, others at desks or collaboration stations. Some students were reading, some were working online, others were writing or creating products on their iPads. This is what Flex Friday looks like in the ARCTIC Zone. 

In their book, “Empower,” John Spencer and A.J. Juliani say, “To develop the ‘leaders of tomorrow,’ we need to develop them as leaders today.” In the ARCTIC Zone, every single Friday is Flex Friday. On these days, our students have four entire “free” class periods. Say what?! Free periods??? I know how this sounds, but hear me out…

Students start the morning by creating a Must-Do Checklist for their day. On their checklist, they decide what they want to accomplish that day in each of our academic areas (Acellus, Passion Project, and Flex). Each of these Flex Friday goals inches them closer to their end-of-quarter goals. During their four free periods, they determine which items they want to spend their time doing. As they complete each of their chosen Must-Dos, they check in with an advisor. “Empowered students are able to set goals [and] monitor their own progress.” 

Personally, I use checklists daily. I create to-do lists for myself at work and at home all the time. We have found that using checklists is a great way to help our students remain focused throughout the day. Allowing them to create their own list is where we empower our students to own their time. Not only do we see major buy-in from them because they have the freedom to choose, but the level of accountability is huge. At the end of the day, when checklists are handed in, students who do not have all of their Must-Dos completed accept full responsibility because THEY determined the Must-Dos in the first place. Powerful stuff. We can then have a conversation about one of two things: setting reasonable daily goals and/or using time more wisely. These are two student conversations I had today (another Flex Friday)… 

Student A: “Ms. McMahon, I think I set my Acellus goals too high today.”
Me: “Why do you think that?”
Student A: “Because it took me way longer than I thought to do the math lessons and way less time than I thought to do the social studies lessons.”
Me: “Good to know for next time. How do you think you’ll adjust your goals next Flex Friday?” 
Student A: “I’m going to increase the social studies goal and decrease the math goal.”
– – – – – – – – – – 
Student B: “Hey, I accomplished my Flex goal for the day!”
Me: “Nice work!”
Student B: “That feels so good because last week, I didn’t meet my goal.”

The teacher who asked me, “How do you get them to work like this?” would likely be shocked to hear the answer, “By letting them do whatever they want…” That’s pretty much how it goes, though. We hand over the responsibility to students to determine their tasks and offer flexibility in how they accomplish them. They do the rest. 




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