Students are empowered by choice and democracy
‘For teenagers who are busy finding their identity, choices are respectful and give them independence,’ says Katy Parnell, Supported Learning teacher at RuTC. Her approach to teaching is to always offer students choices rather than giving them orders. This is a valuable lesson for all teachers.
Often in secondary schools, learning is mired with variations of the instruction ‘do this because I told you to’. The motivations and reasons behind learning activities are mapped to the teacher’s own goals of having a disciplined, productive and successful class. Many students, not just students in Supported Learning, struggle immensely with this authoritative approach. Those same students often flourish when the focus of respect is not on the teacher but on them.
‘College is about respectful relationships,’ says Katy. ‘In a classroom, it is not so much about strict discipline but a harmonious relationship built on respect.’ She believes that as a teacher you can create situations where all students are able to succeed. You can do this by allowing them to choose between group work and individual work, written work and verbal debate, agreeing together on the classroom rules so that there is a democracy and greater feeling of involvement rather than passive participation, and acknowledging the anxiety many may feel as a result of the vulnerability requisite to being a learner in a strict environment.
Giving students the experience of a range of options allows them to make better decisions and to choose what is right for them. They require the time to have these experiences, learn from them and make better choices. Katy acknowledges that this is time-consuming and risky but very often she gets the outcome she initially wanted. That is, the same outcome is reached, but the student’s experience of that journey is enhanced.
‘Students must not feel like they are fighting the system but that they are actually part of the process,’ says Katy. ‘They need to feel like education is not something done to them, but something they engage in.’ Her student-centred and passionate approach to teaching makes it no wonder why she was awarded RuTC ‘s Teacher of the Year in 2015.