Written by Maddie Hunt, Tsai Hsing Grade 8 Teacher

As a self-proclaimed Type A personality, I value an environment that feels calm, predictable and direction-oriented. I am the type of person with color coordinated calendars hanging on my fridge, planners with meticulously sorted tabs and a keen appreciation for an empty email inbox at the end of each day.

So why on earth did I choose the vocation of a teacher?  Anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes in a classroom knows that attributes such as predictable and calm feel more like the outliers than the norm.  I imagine my motivation for choosing the life of an educator is the same as the vast majority of those in the profession: the students.  No matter how chaotic, unpredictable and messy teaching can be- there is nothing more rewarding than working with students.

students working

So as I began to narrow in on my own teaching pedagogy, I struggled with creating an environment that was both structured and empowering.  How could I help my students grapple with critical thinking while still maintaining the boundaries and parameters that give us direction?  I quickly began to find that organization and creativity did not need to be mutually exclusive- rather they work quite well in tandem.

Enter: student choice.

It was easy to see that once my students were allowed to make choices around their learning, engagement would rise exponentially.  Students finally felt ownership in their academic journey- it was no longer about what their teacher needed them to learn but empowering them to learn with conviction.

There have been countless moments in my teaching career where the integration of choice in projects, assessments or discussions has amplified student voice.  Most recently, our 8th graders at Tsai Hsing were grappling with concepts such as being an Upstander amidst gender inequities.

student project

Two concepts that have a lot of layers to unpeel. So instead of spewing my own interpretation of how to be an Upstander in life’s difficult moments, students were presented with some rudimentary information on the topic and left with one simple directive.  How will you stand up to the injustices of today?

student project

Now this is where things really got cool.  With beautifully planned templates and color coordinated lesson plans, my students were given a platform to share their own ideas.  They needed to write, develop and procure a short film that would inspire their communities to not only understand current day gender inequities, but also be empowered to stand up to them.  I. Learned. So. Much.

What inequalities were our youth facing? How did they experience gender equality? What would they feel empowered to do about it?

As I watched, with privilege, all of their short films I was again reaffirmed that when students are given opportunities to be creative and take ownership of their learning, their voices shine.  

So to all of my fellow teachers out there, I would challenge us to think about how we can continue to offer and integrate choice in our classrooms.  I don’t have the perfect recipe- (if you have one- feel free to send it my way), but I do know that once we allow our students some sovereignty  in their education, we are allowed to sit back and rhear their voices, passions and self-worth shine.  And really- what more can we ask for as teachers?