Three Ways to Encourage Individuality in the Classroom

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, January 31, 2018
By Mallory Kojkowski

Ed.D. Director of Admissions and Outreach Fusion Academy Miami

Adolescents will spend about 900 total hours per year at school and in the classroom. That’s 3,600 hours for all of high school. This gives our students ample time to learn and grow, discover facts and fantasies, and to continue their journey of figuring out exactly who they are. Parents and teachers – no pressure! Academic challenges, social awareness and emotional regulation are only a few of the battles our students try and conquer on a daily basis. So, how can we help? We can start by letting our students be exactly who they were meant to be. Throw out the molds and the standards and instead, provide a space where we can encourage and allow for our students to find themselves and appreciate their own unique individuality. Here are three absolutely doable ways to encourage individuality in the classroom.

1. Create an open environment

Allowing a student to feel as though they are in a safe and supportive environment will lead that student to feel comfortable. With comfortability comes expression and exploration. This first stems from a solid relationship between the student and the teacher. At Fusion Academy, we call our teachers “teacher mentors”. It’s imperative that our teachers and students can create a real connection. Imagine walking into a space everyday – maybe it’s your home or your office – and you feel completely unwelcomed and unable to be your true self. Would you like it there? Probably not. Hostile and cold environments do not provide support or confidence. All students should be able to enter their classroom for the school day feeling content and at ease. This sets the tone for the entire day and ultimately sets them up for success.

2. Allow for creative thinking and flexibility

Creative thinking can only occur when there is opportunity to allow it. While some subjects can naturally incorporate creativity into the lesson and assignments, others may have to intentionally make time for it. Setting aside a portion of the class time or entire school day for creative exploration will allow students to tap into interests, likes and dislikes. Teachers must also think outside the box in the way lessons are taught and mastered. If you have a student who wants to be a film maker when they grow up, why not have them show mastery on a book they just read by writing a movie script instead of a book report.

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We must be flexible in deciding what format our kids are going to learn in. For a student who hates to write, why not have them present a verbal report or record a podcast. It’s also time for teachers to let go of their role as the leader in the classroom. Sure, ultimately they make the rules and have the final say. But think of the empowerment you’d be providing a student with if you allowed them to lead the discussion and ask bold and brave questions. That can lead to the development of leadership qualities and confidence in the content area.

3. Celebrate originality

If we want our students to explore their own identity, we need to provide them with the space to do so. All students learn at a unique pace – some whiz through a math test while others need additional time and a quiet space to complete an assignment. By recognizing this, we are giving our students the confidence to do school in a time frame that works for them. Pressuring an entire class to finish a math test in under 20 minutes is an archaic way of measuring mastery that we must let go of. We are better off teaching this kids executive functioning and time management skills than we are forcing them to complete something in an inadequate amount of time which results in a poor grade. If we have one student who is strong in science and another who is strong in art, let’s embrace that! At the end of the day, we all end up going into career paths that interest us. We should be allowing our adolescents to explore their own interests as early as possible.