Our students come to us from so many different places. They have different backgrounds, different lived experiences, different interests, and different talents. To provide personal meaning for each learner in such a diverse group, we need to provide our students with a wide variety of possibilities and experiences, so they can each find their own passion and path forward. Each one of them deserves to discover what a “life full of possibilities” means for them.
In this podcast episode, we explore this idea of possibility and how we can open up the world for our students. To help us unpack this topic, we are joined by AVID’s new CEO, Thuan Nguyen. We discuss keys to unlocking possibility, including the fundamental need for strong relationships, mentors, and breadcrumbs to possibility, as well as the role of teachers in this process.
It’s the possibility that keeps me going, not the guarantee.
Nicholas Sparks, American novelist and screenwriter
The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:
- Create Community and Nurture Connections to Support Social and Emotional Learning (article collection)
- Deepen Connections to Accelerate Learning (article collection)
- Design for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Learning (article collection)
- Empower Students Through Creativity and Choice (article collection)
- Engage Students Through Inquiry Learning (article collection)
- Help Students Take Ownership of Their Digital Lives (article collection)
- Inspire Students With Project-Based Learning (article collection)
- Best Practices for Teaching to and with Each Student’s Identity: The How of Culturally Responsive Teaching with Dr. Geneva Gay (podcast episode)
- The Importance of Teaching to and with Each Student’s Identity: The What and Why of Culturally Responsive Teaching with Dr. Geneva Gay (podcast episode)
How Can We Help Students Live a Life Full of Possibility?
The path toward possibility is not easy, and it is not straightforward. Each of our students comes to us at a different place on the journey, and each has different needs and wants. The pandemic has amplified our understanding about the disparity in opportunities among our students. With this understanding comes a greater responsibility to do something about it and find ways to open doors for all of our students.
In our conversation, we build upon personal experiences about what it meant for us to be led to possibilities and what empowered us to grow. From those experiences, we broaden the conversation to the role of schools and teachers in the classroom. How can we best empower our students and provide them with a life of possibility? Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
- Teachers Transform Lives: Thuan recounts some of his relationships with teachers and how they fundamentally changed his life. He explains how his ELL teacher became the first person beyond his immediate family to truly care for him unconditionally and how this relationship helped him achieve his possibilities. He stresses the importance of these relationships and says, “Without the experience and knowledge that no matter what happens, she cares about me, it would have been very hard to listen to the harder advice. . . . part of achieving possibility outside of what you’re living in requires a little bit of a leap of faith. You can’t see it [the possibility]. You don’t know what you don’t know.” You need someone like Thuan’s ELL teacher to keep nudging you to take the next step.
- Survive Before You Can Thrive: Many of our students are struggling to meet basic needs. Until these needs are met, they will not be ready to see their possibilities beyond getting their next meal or getting home safely. As Thuan says, “Forget possibilities and potential. First it’s about survival.” Once we help students get beyond this point, they can begin to “thrive.”
- Path to a Life of Possibility: Students need opportunity knowledge—the knowledge to see what is possible. They also need people along the way to provide them with the skills, experiences, and exposure to unlock their passions and possibilities. These networks of support need to push students beyond their comfort zone and into a life of possibility.
- A Catalyst for Change: The pandemic has amplified our understanding of the gap between learner opportunities, and it has reinforced the importance of education in student growth. The disruption of the pandemic has once again shown us that schools are anchors in communities. Despite the struggles of the past two years, the pandemic has served as a catalyst in pushing us to lean in as a community and do better for our students.
- Activating Possibilities for Students: Possibility shows up differently for each student, so we need to meet them where they are and start the journey from there. This journey begins and ends with relationships. As Thuan says, “We need to present the world to kids differently,” so each of them can find their passion. We need to allow students to explore the different types of issues they want to lean into and live the unique experiences that interest them. When students can lean into their interests, it can turn to passion, which can lead to endless possibilities.
- Providing Opportunity in the Classroom: AVID is working hard to provide teachers with systems, structures, strategies, and tools to help teachers provide opportunities in their classrooms. Teachers’ time is precious, so AVID is helping teachers cut through the noise and get right to what works. To do this, AVID is vetting tools and strategies and providing resources to implement those that work best.
- Empower Students and Families: We need to empower students and parents to take control of learning and push it beyond the school day, thereby expanding available instructional minutes. Thuan once again stresses the importance of relationships in this context. He says, “I would love nothing better than to know that every student had access to another loving, caring adult beyond their family and have that show up in the form of a teacher. Until that can happen, we need to find other ways to empower parents and students to advocate for themselves.”
- Teachers as Guides: Teachers do not need to be the holders of all knowledge. Information is doubling at such an astonishing rate—knowing everything is impossible. Instead, teachers should be guides and mentors who provide resources and opportunities to students, so they can each grow and pursue their personal interests and possibilities. We can lay down “breadcrumbs of possibility and opportunity” that will lead students on the path to becoming passionate, lifelong learners.
If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- Share an example of a teacher who has made a fundamental difference in your life or the life of someone you know.
- What is something that you’ve accomplished in life that has taken significant time and effort?
- How can we provide students with opportunity knowledge about what is possible for them?
- What have you discovered about schools, students, teaching, and learning because of your pandemic experiences? How can these discoveries make us better?
- How might educators activate possibilities for students? What breadcrumbs can we lay down that will lead students to possibility and success?
- How can we empower both families and students beyond the school day?
- How can teachers be guides and mentors rather than holders of all knowledge?
Extend Your Learning
- Supporting Students During Uncertain Times (Edutopia)
- Making the Shift From Student Engagement to Student Empowerment (John Spencer)
- 50 Ways to Empower Students in a Connected World (TeachThought)
- What Is PBL? (PBLWorks)