Initiative, Autonomy, Responsibility and Problem-Solving

We went to see the principal to ask if we could make a skating rink in the school yard. He was really happy that we wanted to do that. He said “Come see us when you have a plan”. We got support and the principal was really open to the idea.

– High school student

Contrary to stereotypes of young people with power and control in their lives, we may observe more self-regulation, greater responsibility and initiative, and many instances of problem-solving in a school where students feel empowered.

In such a context, students are engaging with their world, thinking critically about all they encounter, and putting their ideas into practice. We may see monthly assemblies initiated, organized and implemented by students, focusing on issues that concern and interest them. In student-led activities and initiatives, we are likely to see students on the stage and running things behind the stage, with adults offering support behind the scenes.

In the classroom, we may see more instances of youth shaping their own learning, setting individual goals, making a plan to meet them, and taking responsibility for their own success. At all levels of school life, we will find youth taking initiative to change their school environment: approaching adults in order to raise problems or identify a need, while at the same time proposing solutions.

In many schools, extracurricular activities are a focal point and an outlet for student participation. Indeed, extracurricular activities are often extremely significant for students, invested with meaning and the potential to channel their energy, interests and creativity. In this sense, the importance and meaning of any single activity or club is "greater than the sum of its parts". While for adults the theme may or may not stand out in relevance, the process through which the activity or club came into being often defines its significance for young people.

When students approach an adult to discuss an idea, make a plan then take responsibility for its implementation, the process is rich with learning and meaning. It indicates that students have felt able to articulate and confident about expressing their interests and ideas.

When those taking initiative and action are reflective of a school’s full diversity, this demonstrates that many different groups of students are feeling empowered.

We need to start young. Children have a voice and a moral character to know what is right and wrong. Even in my Grade 3 class we have advisory meetings. If there are issues at recess or in the classroom, students can identify problems and come up with solutions, "I think we need to have a meeting. Something happened at recess." There are no names and no tattling; it’s more about "how can we as leaders solve this situation?". Often when I first start the advisory meetings I have to establish expectations and establish criteria. Then after a few times the kids are initiating and running the meetings. As a teacher, I can help them develop strategies, "What would your words sound like? How would you approach that?" They feel empowered because they are the ones creating solutions for problems in their playground.

– Elementary teacher