Across the country, in recent years, we have witnessed waves of unrest, and experienced unforeseen, unimaginable challenges. At the height of the pandemic, teachers were entrusted with an increasing demand of responsibilities that appointed them not only as instructors, but as mentors, coaches, mediators, and counselors. Though we aimed to respond to the challenges, confidence was broken, bonds were tested, and students' voices were often lost in the shuffle.
As we reflect on the most difficult years of our educational careers, how can we move towards rebuilding our communities to restore hope and trust within our students? When the world continues to shift rapidly before our eyes, how can we support students and encourage them to feel empowered to lead?
As educators, we can equip them with the tools and resources they need to feel supported so that they can discover their own potential. Entrepreneurship and innovation can inspire students to reshape the narrative so that they can create lasting change within their communities.
Strengthen Campus Culture
A positive and supportive learning environment is a beginning...
Our commitment to meaningful change and community impact starts in the classroom. As we seek ways to strengthen the culture of our campuses, we can expand our pedagogy to include fresh, dynamic, and inclusive approaches to understanding and learning. Forming authentic relationships and bonds with our students will drive us forward. These connections help to clear the fog. These connections outlast any crisis.
Creating an environment where students feel safe to explore, create, and innovate is a high priority for districts nationwide. When students see us as invested educators who care and listen, they begin to develop a sense of agency and are empowered to take ownership of their learning, interact with the content in relevant ways, and inquire about the world around them. They collaborate and design. They approach problems with an empathetic lens. They resolve peer conflicts with growth and progress in mind to reach their goals together. When students feel a sense of empowerment and belonging in schools, they begin to see how they can impact their communities, and develop confidence in themselves and their futures.
...Nurturing the whole child is paramount
Students are often underestimated because of their age, yet possess a deep awareness of their surroundings. Technology grants students unlimited access to the world around them so they naturally develop a curiosity about issues within our society. As educators, we should support students so that they develop the savvy to navigate through the noise. While the pandemic has disrupted student learning, it has also shaken their well-being. With the news circulating one tragedy or injustice after the next, teachers can offer the space for students to process, understand, and heal.
Image Descriptions: Middle school students from Mrs. Andrew’s class and high school students from Ms. Fadden’s class collaborate with their teams to design prototypes and websites for their products and services.
Build Authentic and Meaningful Relationships
If our expectations and hopes are for students to thrive and succeed, then the environment in which they discover and learn must embrace them and be 'for' them. But in order for that to happen, the relationships between school and community and students must be developed and nurtured and positive. And, students need to feel seen and heard.
Start with these ideas and intent...
- Open the lines of communication with families, staff, and stakeholders to express obstacles and triumphs
- Hold events such as fairs, marketplaces, or showcases that celebrate student innovation and contributions
- Encourage students to speak up about problems and issues that matter to them by holding forums for them to share their perspectives
- Include students in the decisions that affect them in the classroom through leadership roles, surveys, and reflective processes that allow us to check in
Image Descriptions: High school students from Ms. Fadden, Mr. Wickenden, Ms. Lopez, Mr. Roadruck, and Ms. Juneau’s class prepare for LGA’s Senior Art Show & Pitch Night held at The Creative Space.
Embrace Youth Entrepreneurship as a Framework
When everything else feels impossible, innovation and youth entrepreneurship offers students opportunity. But it also presents a chance for teachers and administrators to reimagine what could be.
In the entrepreneurship, innovation, and mxINCedu classes that I teach, there are many opportunities to empower students with voice and choice. I create prompts for students to engage in reflective conversations with their peers to determine our next steps within a project. The prompts range from status updates about tasks to wellness check-ins or icebreakers. Each prompt holds a specific purpose that is meant to facilitate communication, creativity, and inquiry.
When student voices are validated and they are provided with the structure to exercise the right to express themselves and contribute they build confidence. And, they are all the more likely to participate, interact with the curriculum, and reflect on the purpose of what they are learning. Especially when the content is influenced by their ideas and perspectives.
To celebrate student designs and contributions, my school holds various events such as Expo Night which brings our pathways of Visual Art & Technology and Business Entrepreneurship together. Middle school students from my classes have also participated in the Secondary Showcase as Business Ambassadors that share the vital role of innovation and entrepreneurship when approaching issues within our society.
I make it a point to send a newsletter that highlights key information about the mxINCedu entrepreneurship course and these activities. The newsletter also serves as an invitation for families to get involved in their student’s experiences. Newsletters also help me to keep colleagues in the loop so that we can share our ideas and insights.
Image Descriptions: 8th grade students, Alisa and Larissa represent the Business Entrepreneurship at the Natomas Unified School District’s Secondary Showcase hosted by Leroy Greene Academy. Families, students, educators, and industry professionals gather together to celebrate the pathways of various schools across NUSD.
Prioritize Teacher Well-Being
Hunger for knowledge fuels our desire to teach, but when that flame begins to flicker, how do we reignite the passion? How do we stay motivated?
Throughout the chaos and uncertainty educators can:
- Ask for help to eliminate unnecessary stressors
- Reprioritize wellbeing, safety, and connection over productivity and performance
- Return to the calm and establish a sense of stability by remaining consistent in our shared goals, routines, and expectations
- Seek new resources that equip teachers and students with meaningful ways to interact, grow, and learn
- Be open to the excitement of innovation in education
- Lean into the community to see what challenges are present
mxINCedu reenergized my love for the classroom because it gave me a way to bridge all aspects of my life together: teaching, social entrepreneurship, and design. Through these passions and ventures, I’ve been able to reach audiences far and wide. When I share this aspect of my career with my students, the dream they have becomes real. Students learn how I accomplished my goals and because they have trust in me, they believe that they can reach their goals too, regardless of what field they are interested in.
As we look to the next school year, we can take comfort in the fact that we won’t be alone in this. If we make the effort to connect with one another with authenticity and transparency in mind, we can restore community in the classroom, empower students, and perhaps feel re-invigorated in the process.
Guest Blogger, Denise Mitchell-Andrews is a Business Teacher and a mxINCedu Leader Teacher at Leroy Greene Academy, Natomas Unified Schools in Sacramento, California. Denise is a champion of student empowerment, an entrepreneur, and an agent of change. She was a pioneer in the early days of blogging and content creation and social media. She founded a magazine that sparked the creation of an independent publishing company and an educational organization for students, writers, poets, and artists from around the globe.
*Photos courtesy of Denise Andrews, Erin Juneau, Kelsey Lopez, & Shawna Fadden