How to Help Students Unlock their Power & Find Their Voice
by LaToya Fernandez, Teacher, Discovery Prep
There is great power in self-advocacy. Above all skills, this is the one that will drive our student outcomes further than anything else. The ability to ask a clarifying question, risk giving the wrong answer and speak up when something seems unjust empowers students to constantly strive for excellence. A successful and fulfilling future starts with self-advocacy. It encourages students to work and fight relentlessly for what they want and need, whether they’re vying for a spot at a top law school or protesting discriminatory laws in their local government. They have the power to make their dreams a reality.
I encourage students to be honest and open about anything in my class or on our campus that they love, don’t love or want to see more of. We do this twice a week during a class meeting. Within these meetings, students are allowed to voice any concerns without judgement. This helps students start to overcome the anxiety that may hold them back from participating during instruction.
During these class meetings, students have voiced their opinions around everything from school uniforms to lunch policies and procedures. As I listen to students voice their opinions, I encourage them to form reasons why these procedures bother them and brainstorm possible solutions. It is important to emphasize that true advocates are solutions-oriented. They also think critically about other possible perspectives, and why these procedures have been put into place. In this open and accepting environment, students learn to respect each other’s opinions, challenge their own ideas and start to understand why the world is how it is.
Students have a voice that begs to be heard – not just within the instructional blocks of the school day, but in the communities they will build and the world they will change. Since starting these class meetings, I have noticed even the shyest of students start to opening up during meetings and participate and engage more and more throughout our lessons. Even more importantly, they’ll use this same power to stand up for their communities. Our students will someday control the laws that are made, decisions that will cause medical and scientific breakthroughs, war conflict, education reform and cutting edge technology and engineering that will shape the culture of our society.
It is our responsibility as educators to not only help them access and wield the world’s knowledge, but give them the tools to make them lifelong learners and forces for change. Our students should know they deserve an excellent education and they deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.
This is the only way they can and will stand up and lead the future – our future. As Emiliano Zapata said, “I want to die a slave to principles, not to men” and “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” With this resolve, our students will not become conformers but transformers.
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LaToya started her career at Rocketship as a member of the support staff team. She transitioned to an enrichment coordinator then a Rocketship tutor (ILS) before becoming a fifth grade humanities teacher at Discovery Prep. LaToya graduated from Newbury College in Boston where she studied Media Writing and English.
Published on October 8, 2015