JUNE 13, 2019

Giving Students Autonomy

A Conversation with Global Scholars Teacher Agnieszka Straszewska, Warsaw

Global Scholars students in Warsaw inspired neighbors to join their lake cleanup

Global Scholars students in Warsaw inspired neighbors to join their lake cleanup

“After completing this year’s curriculum, my Global Scholars students asked me if it would be possible to join the Youth Strike for Climate on May 24, 2019. They made banners and marched in the demonstration through the streets of Warsaw. They encouraged community members to join their spring lake cleanup in the neighborhood and hung posters about wasting water around our school’s premises, as well as outside them.”

According to Global Scholars teacher Agnieszka Straszewska, this is not typical behavior for Warsaw public school students. She has encouraged student autonomy and a sense of self-efficacy in her Global Scholars classroom, and the response has been positive. The school even approved the students’ participation in the Climate Strike—which was framed as a field trip, with a parent attending as guardian and the principal’s agreement that it had educational value.

Ms. Straszewska explains:

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Student autonomy has been one of the reasons why I joined Global Scholars in the first place. This is what many lessons, especially in public schools, are missing. My Global Scholars students organize their own work, become group leaders, lead discussions, encourage their peers to complete assignments, try to meet deadlines, edit the clips, and plan their own multimedia projects. As a teacher, I am there to be consulted. Sometimes I even give them full leadership and become a regular member of the project group, taking clues and ‘commands’ from group leaders.

The students thrive in this new role as leaders.

The pedagogical approach moves the teacher away from being the center of the class. Student talking time becomes longer and more valuable, as the teacher is no longer an omniscient conductor, but rather a mentor, setting the scene and passing the baton to the students and giving them a field for experiments.

These differences enrich student’s learning process and allow children to take more control of their educational paths. They decide about their group duties and pursue their passions. As a result, they are more independent.

The Community Action Project lets students take their leadership role beyond the classroom, to the community.

Our city river, the Vistula, is rather well taken care of, but not many people pay attention to Czerniakowskie Lake, located just outside our school. During the summer, it becomes a central spot for the local community. The students reached out to local organizations, spoke with representatives and consulted local businesses, for instance to ask if they could hang posters. They also made a presentation about the program and gave a speech about it during a conference for Warsaw schools and teachers. Surprisingly, during the presentation they invited all the members of the audience to join their Community Action Project and help them clean the lake.

On clean-up day, we started at 2:30 PM. Around 40 people from both the community and our school showed up! Armed with biodegradable garbage bags and gloves, provided by Global Scholars students, we walked around the lake picking up trash. Then we continued a bit further, towards the main square of the district. The owners of a local restaurant took all the garbage we collected and agreed to segregate the trash, so that it could be recycled. Our Global Scholars had approached the restauranteurs about the project two weeks earlier. The idea was theirs, not mine.

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Isn’t this autonomy? Teachers should not be afraid to give it to their students.

Students made posters in English and Polish and contacted local businesses for permission to hang them.

Students made posters in English and Polish and contacted local businesses for permission to hang them.

“Do not waste water!”

“Do not waste water!”

Self Efficacy is one of 9 learning outcomes described in Evaluating Global Digital Education: Student Outcomes Framework, co-published by Global Cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and OECD.

Read more about global digital exchange and student learning outcomes.