This episode is Part III of a four-part series featuring educator voices from the 2022 AVID National Conference. Each episode features interviews with teachers and school leaders. In this episode, educators share what it takes to help students succeed. Specifically, our guests talk about strategies to engage and empower their students. In almost every response, building relational capacity is mentioned as the foundation upon which everything else is built. From a strong relationship of trust, teachers can then engage and empower their students.
The moment you add student ownership to student engagement, you have empowerment.
Dr. John Spencer, author, teacher, and education leader
- The Power of Empowering Students, Part I, with Dr. John Spencer (podcast episode)
- The Power of Empowering Students, Part II, with Dr. John Spencer (podcast episode)
- Benefits of the AVID Program: Results of a UCLA Study, with Dr. Rebecca Dudovitz (podcast episode)
- Strategies for Youth to Align Passion to Purpose and Education, with Jorge Valenzuela (podcast episode)
- Empower Students Through Creativity and Choice (article collection)
- Engage Students Through Inquiry Learning (article collection)
- Inspire Students With Project-Based Learning (article collection)
- Deepen Connections to Accelerate Learning (article collection)
- Reimagine Summative Assessments for Increased Student Agency (article collection)
A Love Story
When Genessee Avila Montes talks about her students and the success they’ve had, she exudes both pride and love. And she emphasizes that her school’s success is built on a community of “we.” She says, “We do really well, and it really is about we, right? We to our families, we to our community, we to our kids, we to our staff. We have changed our kids’ lives and our families’ lives, and that’s what education is about, and that’s what we should be doing.” She then adds an exclamation point, saying, “So that is my love story!”
Throughout this episode, you will hear many love stories from caring educators. They pour their hearts and lives into their students so that each child can be successful. Their words are both heartfelt and inspiring. The following are a few highlights from our conversations:
- Mitzi Campbell, Principal, Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, Danville School District 118, IL: “When I think of AVID, I think of how to engage and empower students in the classroom. A lot of our students come from home schools where they may not be successful, so we offer them an alternative that starts with community—that starts with building a family within our building—so students feel comfortable and safe to engage in the classroom. They take risks. We use a lot of the WICOR® strategies . . . just to build their confidence and help them grow and empower them, so they take ownership of their learning. We’ve seen huge growth in how many students go out and seek those postsecondary options.”
- Genessee Avila Montes, Principal, Jefferson Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, AZ: “Our success story is 10 years ago, we implemented this, and I went into a school that was a ‘D’ rating school. We’re a high-diverse population and a high-title poverty school, and it has changed us. We’re now one point away from being an ‘A’ school. We outperform very affluent schools in our large district. We’re the largest district in Arizona. So we do really well.”
- Janice Warren: Assistant Superintendent and AVID District Director, Pulaski County Special School District, AR: “I love AVID because of the impact—the engagement that it has made for our students—[and] also for the instructional strategies and the skills that it provides for our teachers. It’s also put our district on one accord. We have one language—one voice—and that voice is about impacting student learning, and that’s what AVID has done for us the last four years.”
- Jesula Jeannot, AVID Alum and Marketing Coordinator, Wisdom Capture: “I was a student speaker in 2015, and in a full-circle moment, I joined Wisdom Capture, and now it basically feels like I’m working with AVID. . . . It’s been a lovely journey, and I’m excited to be here.” Jesula talks about the impact AVID had on her experience as an immigrant to the United States. She says, “When I came to the United States in 2011, I was being bullied. I didn’t speak the language, and then to now speaking in front of 5,000 educators, sharing my story, and people cheering me on—when I thought I was voiceless and then finding a group of people who believe in me and giving me back my voice was a powerful moment for me.” She adds, “The theme of AVID this year is possibility, and I always say that I’m living proof of what is possible for students when people believe in you. When people see you when you don’t even see yourself. I consider my AVID Elective teacher as my second mom. My mom is still in Haiti. My mom always asks, ‘How is Miss Lewis doing?’ because she knew that in a moment that I needed a mom, she was there for me. Even if you don’t see it, AVID is making an impact, and it’s changing lives, so they definitely changed my life. I always say everything great that happened in my life, AVID had something to do with it.”
- Veronica Martinez, Administrative Assistant II, Western Region, AVID Center: “I love AVID because I’m a first-generation college student. I graduated with my master’s. And growing up, I was given the opportunity to learn about AVID, and I didn’t even know about college, like that was never an option growing up for us. We didn’t know. I was an ESL student, so we didn’t know that was an opportunity for us. And this is me giving back to the organization, working here as a success story. And I’m really thankful for AVID because I now have something to give to my kids to say that ‘You guys go to college . . . and start making differences and break generational curses.”
- Angela Murr, Information Literacy Specialist, Mendez Elementary School, San Marcos Consolidated ISD, TX: “My makerspace is set up where I have for K–1, we have stations. So I have an engineering station, an art station, a LEGO station, a drama station, and we have a little stage, so they rotate through those stations. But second through fifth, I really try to concentrate on projects within things like Google and Canva, so that way, they can also work on them outside of the classroom. We just did a real estate project, where they built haunted houses. We made agent cards, and they actually had to sell their property to teachers, and the people who sold their properties got to have a real estate party. They do this, and then they realize they can do things like this on their own. . . . Then they’re doing these crazy, out-of-the-box things in their own projects, and it just blows my mind.”
- Leeza Roper, English Teacher, Syracuse STEM at Blodgett, Syracuse City School District, NY: Leeza loves how students take ownership of their reading by using WICOR strategies. She adds that their school has a very diverse library, where students “are encouraged and want to go to the library to read books of their choice.” Leeza also is a firm believer of authentic projects and points to some of the projects teachers in her school have integrated, such as a podcast that was created, an interior design with math skills, and a class book in ELA.
- Megan Himes, AVID Elective Teacher, Lincoln Middle School, Syracuse City School District, NY: “Engagement is the most important thing, I think, in the classroom, and that extends through all of the AVID strategies that you use.”
- Christy Meier, Academic Coach, Stanley Switlik Elementary School, Monroe County School District, FL: “In the elementary [grades], the engaging and empowering students is very important in the classroom, and just building those relationships is a great way to start engaging the students. But then doing the different strategies—like Philosophical Chairs, Turn and Talk, [Gallery Tours], Graffiti Walls—all those are strategies that really engage the students and continue to help build relationships because they know we want to hear from them.”
- Christhian Saavedra, Student Success Coordinator, Rogers Heritage High School, Rogers Public Schools, AR: “I think when you engage them . . . it’s all about understanding that it’s helping them find their voice. And I think that their voice sounds different. Not to be so cliché, but I think, at times, we want students to fit a certain mold, and we just have to remember they come to us with the best version of themselves because I know that’s what we do to them. We come to class every day with the best version of ourselves. And sometimes that’s a tired version. Sometimes, that’s a very energetic version, and we just have to remember that students are the same thing. And so my thing is, if I could give one advice, it’d be, just find out what’s their voice and how do they want to be seen. Ask questions if you don’t understand the students, rather than be frustrated for the version they give you.” Christhian adds, “If you don’t have the right relational capacity between the student and teacher, then they might not tell you who they really are. That might take time. I know, at times, we get caught up in the curriculum, but we all know it starts with the heart, and it starts with them feeling seen and feeling valued.” Christhian also talks about the importance of showing vulnerability. He says, “I do think that there is power in showing students vulnerability, and there are times that you do have to show them that you are frustrated but explain the ‘why.’ I think there is power in showing them that you’re not perfect. . . . Me, personally being a Hispanic male, I think it’s important that my students see some tears from me. I think it’s important to show them that I have feelings and that I don’t have it all figured out.”
- Liliana Mazet, ELD Coordinator, Palm Desert High School, Desert Sands Unified School District, CA: Liliana believes that when teaching students the English language, the experience “is a celebration of their primary language, and that we need to start from the fact that we need to celebrate their primary language because that helps to build that relational capacity. It’s a reason for us to celebrate in the classroom—the fact that we have these multiple languages happening and that we are going to power them further by building on their ability to communicate with the rest of the world.”
- Julia Sumler, Instructional Coach, Jefferson Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, AZ: “Kids really do a lot, and they take off with it. And it’s amazing how much is in their brains that can come out, and allowing them to go with that and just release a little bit, and then they are teaching each other, they’re teaching students from other classrooms. They’re teaching the teacher. Then, I think the teachers can see the value. It’s okay to let these little guys think for themselves, and use their brains, and not us always doing the thinking for them. . . . And it makes the teacher’s job easier. . . . I’m not the only teacher in the room.”
- Shannon Harsh, Teacher and AVID Coordinator, Wilson College Prep, Phoenix Union High School District, AZ: Shannon’s school focuses heavily on inquiry, evidence-based grading, and skill proficiency. Because of this approach, she says, “We spend a lot of time talking about growth mindset.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- How can you engage the students in your classroom?
- How is student empowerment different from engagement?
- How can you empower the students in your classroom?
- What role does relational capacity play in engaging and empowering students?
- Which educator statements stood out for you in this episode, and why?
Extend Your Learning
- Three Ways to Empower Students to Own the Classroom Culture (Dr. John Spencer)
- Empowering Students to Develop an Academic Identity (Edutopia)
- Universal Design for Learning and Blended Learning: Engagement (Dr. Catlin Tucker)
- Posts From Engagement vs. Empowerment (George Couros)