Engaging and Empowering in the Classroom

George Couros presents in his book The Innovator’s Mindset, that “engagement is a good thing” but he encourages teachers to go beyond just engagement (2015, p. 96). He asserts that “we must also empower students and equip them with the skills to learn” (Couros, 2015, p. 96). I see these two components like layers to a cake. First, students must be engaged in their learning, ALL students. How do we engage all students? We teach in such a way that students’ learning strengths are activated. To do this we must know our students. How do they best receive information? What combination of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic instruction do they need to be successful? How do they best express information (oral, written, or project-based)? What barriers do they have to receiving and expressing knowledge? To be empowered, students must first be engaged. To be engaged students need teachers that utilize their strengths, break down barriers to learning, and provide them with the tools they need to explore their passions and interests.

When given the right tools and opportunity, students have the capacity to exceed our expectations. However, we cannot just provide students with the opportunity to innovate, we must first teach them the skills and provide them the framework they need to identify a problem or frame an idea, create steps to solve that problem or achieve that idea, and see the process through to completion. Every step in that process requires a high level of thinking skills and because our students’ brains are still developing, it is critical that we support our students in areas that may not be fully developed yet. Students use a set of thinking skills known as executive function skills to guide their behavior from planning, organizing, and initiation to completion through persistence and goal-directed behavior. Research demonstrates that  “frontal brain systems (the frontal/prefrontal cortex along with connections to adjacent areas) make up the neurological base for executive skills” (Dawson & Guare, 2010, p. 4). It is essential that we (teachers) are cognizant that “prefrontal brain systems are among the last to fully develop, in late adolescence, and they are the final, common pathway for managing information and behavior from other brain regions” (Dawson & Guare, 2010, p. 4). This is not to say that we don’t provide students with the opportunity to be creative, explore their own passions, and develop innovative ideas until late adolescence. This is to say that when we provide the opportunity, we also provide direct support and a well-structured environment to help them set a goal, remain focused on it, be flexible enough to adapt when needed, manage their time well, manage their emotions effectively (especially when frustrated), problem solve through challenges, and see their vision through to completion. Couros asserts that “creating opportunities for students to explore their passions and interests empowers them in their learning” (2015, p. 100). Let’s empower students to make learning personal in a way that inspires them and everyone around them! As fellow learners, let’s also provide the support and encouragement students need for their age and stage in development to experience success.


Couros, G. (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.


Dawson, P. and Guare, R. (2010). Executive skills in children and adolescents. 2nd ed. New

         York: Guilford Press.