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Having courage means doing something when the answer of how it will turn out is unknown. 

It is Not Always Easy to Be Courageous

Courage is not something that comes naturally to everyone. And even when it is a familiar value, it is not always easy to practice courage during a challenging moment. To help kids move from where they are to where we know they can go, it becomes incredibly important for us to remind them that it’s not their starting point that matters, but where they finish, that means more. As parents and educators we are called to find ways to encourage kids to Take a LEAP. By encouraging risk taking, finding their strengths, modeling what is possible and ultimately empowering them to begin uncovering the best version of themselves we give children opportunities to become more courageous.  

A Clarifying Resource

A few months ago, I read Elisabeth Bostwick’s book, Take the LEAP:  Ignite a Culture of Innovation. Her words are lined with ideas for reflection, and opportunities to think differently about taking bold actions in our personal and professional lives. I love that Bostwick selected the verb “Ignite” for her title. It is a word that demands action, forward-thinking and fuels us as we move on to the unknown. 

It’s About Empowering Students

There will be a time when the teacher is no longer in front of students seeking to engage them in the learning process. Our goal is to prepare students to take charge of their learning so that it doesn’t stop when class is over.  

The essential question involves finding a way to go from a classroom of engaged learning to empowered learners. Empowering learners offers opportunities for students to practice being courageous. When students are empowered, they are unstoppable.  

Engagement to Empowerment

One need all people have is to feel a sense of control or power on some level. However, ultimately we crave the ability to be able to take action in our lives. In education, we often hear the word “engagement.” I used to think the ultimate goal was to get students to engage with my content. I used to think that if students appeared to be engaged, learning would be taking place, and class could be considered successful. 

Engagement does provide an opportunity for us to walk with our students through the learning process. After choosing to be compliant, it is one of the powerful steps students can take to get involved in their education. It requires courage to be at a higher level of learning than they might have been before. Educators provide content, an ideal path for navigating material as well as regular feedback to get students excited about learning something new. 

Unlocking Opportunities by Empowering Learners

Recently, I am becoming more aware that the next level after engagement is empowerment. Empowerment is what we are after as educators. Yes, we want students engaged and excited about learning in our classroom with our content, but actual growth is when a learner takes the leap to be in charge of the learning. 

When a learner feels empowered, he or she has the courage to embark on new adventures and take control of learning. Rather than simply waiting for the teacher to provide a reading assignment, for example, teaching students to own their learning looks like providing access to material while also showing students how to select something useful.

When Students are Empowered 

When students are empowered, they do not have to wait for a teacher to tell them that learning will begin. When a teacher provides high-quality instruction and gives learners access to a significant number of resources, students can be successful. Another way students are empowered is through project based learning. In her book Project Based Learning Anywhere, Dr. Lori Elliott explains how teaching students to navigate the uncharted waters of putting a project together is a perfect way to empower students. Courage is built from learning how to work through different challenges.  

Empowered learning can also look like the Maker Space. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Bostwick talked about putting together a Maker Space to participate in the global program, “Caine's Arcade.” Bostwick reminded me about how much fun we had in the classroom embracing From Maker To Movement. When I taught middle school computer classes, students brought cardboard boxes to create old school arcade games designed without any technology, it was a lot of fun to see the creativity and step away from the computer. Students were always proud of what they created and eager to show off their hard work. Courage is begins when students try out different ideas for their arcade games and show vulnerability as other students test out their games. Often the Caine’s Arcade was one of the activities that preceded some of the coding lessons. Students felt empowered and successful with cardboard creativity and therefore were able to apply the same mindset to working with different computer programs. 

Noticing Empowered Figures Throughout History

Bostwick’s book talked about Amelia Earhart. The lens through which Bostwick explained the story gave me a clear understanding of courage and empowerment. Future thinking well before many women of her time, Earhart said, “Women must try and do things that men have tried.” I realized that one of the coolest things that Earhart’s mother did was to help her purchase a first plane. Her mother’s gift helped empower her to be able to focus on the goals that she wanted to accomplish. As Earhart became empowered, she also gained courage. When I buy my son a pair of running shoes, or share a website or technique for learning, I am empowering others to have the courage to test what is possible. 

Change Requires Courage

I love how Bostwick says, “Change is the opportunity to do something amazing.” Sometimes it is inevitable that something has to be different, but the difficult part becomes taking action, or as the book says, Taking the LEAP. Bostwick says that we might think that we don’t like something when it is challenging or new because we associate difficulty with dislike. This statement could not be more true as I think back to my school experience as a young learner.Today, I strive to  empower students to have the resources and guidance available to meet lofty goals. As educators, we look to help them see value in taking risks, noticing strengths and being willing to stay curious.  My favorite quote in Take the Leap, was from Elon Musk. It reads, The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur. 

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