A Review: Empower:What Happens When Students Own Their Learning



Our world is changing and so are our learners. The authors of Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, A.J. Juliani (@ajjuliani)  and John Spencer (@spencerideas) believe that the way to create the  “doers, makers and tinkerers” (Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten) needed to meet our changing society and economy is to challenge the way we teach and how our students learn.  As educators we need to shift from a compliant, one size fits all classroom, to a classroom that is not only as unique as the learners in it, but one that empowers those learners to be in control of their learning.  


Do our classrooms today reflect the learning environments needed to shift the learning from a teacher centred to a student-empowered learning environment? The authors use their passion for empowering learners, and their sense of humour, to encourage educators to flip their traditional ideas of teaching and learning on its head.

Juliani and Spencer have dedicated the book to those teachers who are willing to take the risk, to take the leap to empower students with control over their own learning, but in essence they are making a plea on behalf of all the students sitting at desks, disengaged with a system that will no longer provide them with the learning necessary to thrive in our increasingly digital and connected world:

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Juliani and Spencer are passionate about allowing students to have greater control of their own learning because when the learning is owned by the student the work becomes authentic as the learning is connected to them on a personal level which allows them to persevere through the challenges that occur with rich, authentic  learning:

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Throughout the book,  I found myself constantly reflecting on my days in the classroom and remembering all the energy I put into my lessons to engage the students. I tried everything in my power to engage my students, but looking back, I rarely empowered my learners. In the end, it was still my voice that owned the learning. As the authors point out, I was a “tourist teacher”.

This ah-ha moment was impactful, but it also made me sad. How many opportunities had I missed to prepare my students to be critical thinkers? To be nimble with their learning?

I am grateful for my current role as the #TELTC for my Board and for the opportunities to learn from so many fabulous educators such as Lisa Anne Floyd (@lisaannefloyd) and Karen Enders (@MSE112) who model student-empowered learning because now I am able to support learners in ways that truly empower them. It is no longer just my voice that I am hearing when I get to learn with our students. These empowered learners, in turn, make me a better educator.


The authors don’t let us focus on our missed opportunities with students. They empower us with the WHY and HOW so that moving forward we can shift our thinking and teaching to better prepare students to be nimble learners-learners that are passionate, inquisitive and can unlearn and learn as necessary.  Because ultimately as educators, this is what we want for our students and most importantly because this what our students deserve. 


I came across a powerful quote tweeted by Brian Aspinall (@mraspinal) this week, and I think it ties in nicely with the message that John Spencer and A.J. Juliani share in their book:


Will you take the first step in empowering your students? All it takes is that first step, and you can change your students’ worlds as well as your own!





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