We are born curious. Infants search for answers by touching, experimenting and playing. We realize this is vital to an infant’s understanding and learning so we allow infants to explore freely. We feel comfortable stepping back, watching, guiding and anticipating how the infant will reveal new found knowledge. We are excited by the infant’s sounds, gestures, actions or expressions. We treat these as gifts for they are all part of the infant’s discovery and learning journey.

At some point, we lose sight of this natural learning process and the role we played. As infants become children then teens, we allow them less freedom during their learning journeys. We are no longer comfortable observing students and guiding them in their explorations. We no longer trust that students can make decisions about their learning. We want to direct their paths and dictate the outcomes.

This shift is evident in education policy. Education policy tries to control the learning process stringently. Curricula are designed without any input from those who consume it, the students. The curriculum is determined by objectives that are measured by standardized tests. Students do not have a say in the test design, material, delivery or process even though they are the ones who will be impacted the most by the results. Textbooks are the main tools that support the curriculum. Students are expected to carry around heavy textbooks and consume the content. They do not get to make decisions regarding the textbook’s content, supporting resources or design.

If we continue to teach under the direction education policy has steered us, we will continue to see millions of students drop out of high school every year, high illiteracy rates, high poverty rates, high teen crime rates, high gang rates, high teen pregnancy rates and more. Our education system has failed to show students how to become responsible for their own learning by preventing them from making decisions regarding their learning. Education policy does not support students in pursuing their own learning journeys that align with their interests, passions and dreams. Instead, education policy continues to interrupt the natural learning process and make teachers feel powerless.

However, we do have power in our classrooms. We set the tone, mood and decide how we deliver the curriculum. We decide what we focus on and we decide how we engage and involve students. Take baby steps. Take one class period a week and allow students to decide in what direction they want to take the learning. You can set guidelines and goals to direct them but keep them flexible and provide areas for suggestions. Create project and portfolio-based lessons that give students plenty of room to make choices and experiment. And reclaim the facilitator and guidance role. Be there and anticipate how your students will wow you, because they will.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is a teacher trainer, author and international speaker. She co-founded and organized the acclaimed educational projects Edchat, The Reform Symposium E-Conference and the ELTON nominated Virtual Round Table language and technology conference and ELTChat. Her prolific presence in the educator community through social media has been recognized by several notable entities, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. Find free e-books and resources for teachers on her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. Look out for her upcoming book, “The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators,” published by Eye on Education. Find her on Twitter (@ShellTerrell).

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