Key to both character development and school success then is student engagement, leaving us with a fundamental question: How can we increase student engagement? And, given the enormous and very real challenges and barriers faced by many if not most of our students, what will motivate students to invest in their learning and in school life?
We can increase the likelihood that students will engage when we put students’ diverse voices front and centre in all we do. Students will be more motivated to participate when they know they can have a real effect. Our efforts to centre students’ voices are only authentic when they lead to opportunities for students to act, to make change, and to shape their school and community environment—that is, youth empowerment. Increasing students’ engagement and facilitating their character development goes hand in hand with youth empowerment.
Teachers and school staff can set out on this journey by first reflecting on our use of power as adults. We can ask ourselves how and when to responsibly use our power as adults to ensure student safety and healthy development, while seeking appropriate opportunities to share our power with students by giving them decision-making power and greater control over their own education and lives at school.
To do so, adults need to believe unwaveringly in student capacity and wisdom. When power-sharing takes place in a school culture imbued with values such as respect, empathy and fairness, there is greater likelihood that students will use their power in a constructive and responsible manner.
Throughout this module you will find short films with stories comprised of testimonials illustrating the wisdom, capacity and profound caring of young people, and the critical role of adults as their facilitators and supporters. These powerful stories speak to the often untapped potential of young people to strive to positively affect their school environment when they have opportunities to lead, to speak and be heard, to make decisions and to take action. In response, guided by these wise and passionate voices, teachers and school staff can develop strategies and practices aimed at channelling their students’ energy and motivation into constructive, positive action.
We hope that our module on nurturing youth empowerment will help make student voices central, while reflecting and strengthening the creative strategies of teachers and school staff around Ontario who succeed in engaging their students every day.