How often do you hear youth say “School is boring” or “I don’t learn anything at school”? Not every student is going to fall in love with every topic presented. But there is a way to make the learning process enjoyable and meet the needs of your students. The good news is: you don’t even have to come up with the ideas yourself! Even with great intentions, it is likely that some students are going to become disengaged with a curriculum that they did not help design. Involving students in their own learning process and giving them a say in the classroom encourages critical thinking. It allows the students to become empowered. It teaches them that they are worthy of being listened to and holds them accountable to good behavior because they designed the rules! Think of it as a community where all are equal, but you as the teacher simply are a resource to facilitate and share information. Let the students tell you how they like to learn, what they want to learn, and how you can improve. When the students generate ideas, it is crucial that you address them. If the idea seems unrealistic, make sure you consider it first, but then at least let the student know why you are unable to incorporate their idea. Praise and encourage each student to share so that they know their ideas are valid and continue to participate. It is also crucial to hold them accountable to the classroom that they create. For example, if they want to do an icebreaker activity before every class, have a new student lead it each day. If they determine a list of agreements that says they will not interrupt one another, and they do, remind them of the list they created. Or, better yet, ask them to evaluate themselves to see if they are sticking to the agreements they created (why or why not?) Here are 12 ways you can create this environment in your classroom. These ideas can be used from kindergarten through college aged students!

Have students come up with their own list of agreements for the classroom.

Start your first class by asking students to describe aspects of a safe, fun and respectful learning environment. Have one student writing it down on a large poster that can be hung in the classroom. Remind them that these are agreements that they have created and refer back to it when students are breaking their own “rules.” While students are creating the list, feel free to push them. For example, if a student says “active listening,” ask them to describe aspects. You can say things like “If somebody is on their phone while you are talking, are they actively listening?” and encourage them to create their own no cell-phone policy.

Have a daily or weekly evaluation of your class.

Have students evaluate classroom cultural competency, your teaching methods, and their own engagement. Always remember to include what is going well and what could be improved for next time. Have them explain how they can help change the classroom or themselves, as well as what you can do as a teacher. But don’t make it boring! You can have them write down ideas, share aloud, give a thumbs up, down or in the middle, and even look up ideas online. Have a different student lead evaluation each class. Change up your ideas, and seriously listen to the feedback. Tell the students how you are choosing to incorporate their feedback.

Ask students how they best like to learn.

Discussion, lecture, interaction, videos, groups, individual reading, etc. Students will tell you their favorite ways to learn– be sure to incorporate it into your teaching, and even ask them for ideas of how they’d like it to be. It may be helpful to take a quiz to see which type of learner they are. Hold them accountable to the methods they request!

Ask them what makes them feel close to each other and comfortable in the classroom.

Create regular icebreaker activities to keep their energy up and feeling close to one another. Have a different student lead each one. It may help to have them co-facilitate in pairs. Students will be much more likely to share ideas, enjoy class, and feel accountable for showing up if they have built a community.

Be transparent.

Tell your students about your intentions for the class. Let them know you want it to be interesting, engaging and that you think they are smart. Tell them you want to co-create a classroom where their voices feel heard and they feel excited to come to class. But that you need their help in doing that, because you cannot know if they don’t tell you!

Have them teach your lesson plan.

Create small groups of students (3 or so) and sit down with them a week before the lesson is to be taught. Tell them what information you wanted to share, and allow them to present it to the rest of the class however they find most engaging. Offer them help if they are struggling, but encourage them that they are smart and can do anything they put their minds to.

Have each student perform a different role in the classroom.

Have them brainstorm a list of roles. Help them to come up with roles like timekeeper, voice distributor, evaluator, notetaker, whiteboard recorder, facilitator, etc. This gives students a unique way to participate and feel they have a crucial role in the functioning of class. Have students switch roles each time.

Give them options for projects.

Let them decide if they’d rather do an on-the-ground fieldwork project, write a paper, or make an art project. Require that they make a case for whichever option they desire most. Again, do not be afraid to hold them accountable to their own ideas if they begin to slack off.

Develop a relationship with each student.

Students are more likely to try hard and show up to class if they feel like you will notice and care if they are gone. Show that you are concerned with everybody’s well-being. Check in with them when you know they are experiencing hardship or life changes. It is important to remain professional, but to show the students you care. After all, you may be the only adult in their lives who makes that effort.

Move the desks into a circle.

Simple, but effective! Students are more likely to feel heard and valuable if everybody can see them speak. It also makes them feel closer at school and remember each others’ faces better!

Make sure your content is culturally competent.

When you are giving examples or telling stories, don’t always default to status quo examples. Regularly give examples of homosexual and interracial relationships, diverse influential figures, and various lifestyles. Make sure that the history you teach and refer to includes heroes of all identities. Explain to them that diversity is crucial to a just society, and that things are not yet equal. In your evaluations, ask if you feel the student’s identity (race, gender, sexuality, ability, traditions, weight, etc.) is represented in material and accommodated for. For more help on this subject, check out our multiple resources on epochteacher.com.

Always provide different methods of learning/teaching.

Some students may not feel comfortable speaking out loud. The first step is to see if you can figure out what would make them feel comfortable enough to speak up. But then it is important to give them activities that they can thrive in. Have students write their ideas down and pass them to you. Have students share in small groups. Have them act out the information, draw it, teach it, make a collage, write a poem, or whatever other ideas they suggest. Again, encourage these suggestions in your evaluations. Overall, make sure that you are trying to hear all voices and keep an open mind in your classroom. Never doubt the power of the student voice. By giving them the opportunity to speak and be heard at a younger age, they are exercising power and critical thinking that will allow them to discover the type of leader they are. It will encourage them to become more active members of the community and increase their self-esteem for being acknowledged for their specific strengths.