There’s been a movement in education over the last two or three decades that shifts the paradigm about student and teacher roles.  In the 80s, when I was in school, the shift hadn’t begun, or at least I didn’t recognize it. What I do remember recognizing throughout my school years was an emphasis on compliance. A student’s “job,” as many teachers referred to it,  was to be compliant–compliant with rules, compliant with the curriculum and compliant with the other structures that made up the school environment.

By the time I began teaching, another word was being used–engagement.  As a young teacher, and eventually as a building principal, I spent a lot of time focusing on engaging students.  I also did a lot of writing during that time, and looking back at it, everything I wrote then refers to “student engagement,” “engaging students at higher levels,” and so on.

As we passed the aughts, (yes, I just used that word) a third term began to get traction–empowerment.  With this third shift, it became clear that a paradigm about student roles in school can be likened to a continuum, with “compliance” at the left end, “engagement” in the middle and “empowerment” at the far right end.  

Not surprisingly, as the paradigm about the students’ role in school evolved, so did the teachers’.   The shift from compliant students to empowered students inherently also meant that some of the important work happening in the classroom should also move from teacher to student.   As a result, the focus of everyone’s efforts since has evolved from “teaching” to “learning.” 

Someone once said, “Teaching is easy…making sure everyone learns is hard.” Most people in education would agree.  Some people credit No Child Left Behind as the trigger that caused the latest shift. While great teachers have always believed that all students can learn, this landmark legislation made it critical that entire systems were aimed at the same objective.  

But regardless of the cause, the shift of focus from teaching to learning is a good one.   It has raised the bar for all of us educators. It is no longer acceptable to have a”fixed” mindset about what a student–really any learner–is capable of. And, there are several spinoffs, such as personalized learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, etc.

What do you think will be the next evolution?  How would we label the level added to the far right end of the continuum after “empowerment?” I can think of a couple options.  “Impassioned” and “galvanized” seem probable labels, because they imply a state of intrinsic motivation.  

What word(s) would you use?

And what if the same continuum used to organize our perspective about students and learning were to be used to describe roles in other settings?  How would the “bottom line” for a business look if employees were empowered, or better yet, impassioned, to achieve the mission or goals of the organization?  Or what about nonprofits? Or any type of organization? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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