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Letting Students Take Control

By Clarence Romero, Riverside Community College

We let our students assume active leadership roles and responsibility for all aspects of our teacher preparation program. It’s the best way to prepare them for the future.

Learning leadership skills by reading is as futile as learning how to swim by reading a book. The best way to learn how to swim is to jump into the water and get wet. Likewise, the most effective way to learn about leadership is to practice your skills in an experiential structured setting with real people and real goals.

But most students romanticize the notion of leadership. They fantasize about being the boss, the director, the president, the big cheese. The rude awakening and disillusionment come when students take on leadership responsibility within a committee, and they begin to experience firsthand the realities of leadership. Leading others to a desired outcome can be frustrating, difficult, and at times impossible. Yet in the Latino Educators of Tomorrow (LET) program, students assume active leadership roles and responsibility for every aspect of the program’s implementation from developing brochures and fund-raising to mentoring and training other students.

How does the program help students become leaders by being leaders? The following capabilities have been essential in our program:

LISTENING

To some degree, the teacher must become the antithesis of what he has practiced for years as a teacher. Trained to provide knowledge with unilateral instruction, the teacher now needs to take time to listen in the name of education. Yes, listen to the inner callings of students who want to be recognized as human beings with valuable insight into the development of their own futures. The atmosphere of the program conveys that the teacher and the student’s peers are listening and that their voices are being individually and collectively heard.

ATTITUDE

Encouraging someone to pursue a college education against her will is futile and frustrating. The driving force to pursue an education, or any goal for that matter, must come from within the psyche of the person. Once a person identifies with a realistic goal and makes an internal commitment to that goal, external forces may impede or distract but not stop the achievement of those personal goals.

The next step in promoting the concept of self-validation is to encourage students to have an attitude. Attitude is different from arrogance or exaggerating our own worth in an overbearing manner. We need to stop promoting the notion that you can be anything you want to be. I want to be Shaq, who weighs over 300 pounds, and plays in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers. The reality is I am not Shaq; I am a unique and different individual that happens to weigh 160 pounds. Attitude depends on an accurate assessment of personal strengths and weaknesses and the development of realistic goals.

VALUES

First, we challenge students to conduct a complete analysis of societal and personal values and to make a determination about what is meaningful. Second, we ask them to pursue options in life that are consistent with those guiding principles and live according to those values that have been selected as relevant and meaningful. For example, one of the LET program goals is to provide students with educational experiences that expand their social consciousness. Even though students have significant financial and personal problems of their own, they focus their attention on others who need assistance. Students participated in a community service learning project to assist a quadriplegic with financial difficulties make his home wheelchair accessible. The students identified this project as a commitment and made it happen.

NAVIGATING

Using previous training, knowledge, and experience, the student is ready to take on the responsibilities of a navigator. We are not here to prepare the future for our students; instead we need to help students prepare themselves for the future. The students, not the counselor, complete an individualized educational employment plan that includes all educational requirements and a course of action for seeking employment. In some cases, students have indicated that they will pursue careers in education and plan early on to become curriculum specialists, counselors, and even superintendents.

During the summer, we offer a Teacher Internship Program to promote educational opportunities to all students. The program provides community college students with relevant and realistic career exploration opportunities in the public education arena. Students rotate through different divisions of the Riverside County Office of Education shadowing teachers, supervisors, managers, and directors. The paid internship includes a field experience class where students finalize their individual educational employment plans and prepare résumés for the job market.

PERSEVERANCE

The ability to persevere in the face of adversity is more than just a maxim. We encourage students to internalize perseverance as a fundamental assumption of life itself. Failure becomes just another obstacle to negotiate without compromising the life-journey. It provides a golden opportunity for the student to reevaluate the plotted course, make decisions given the new contingencies, take corrective action as necessary, and continue the journey into the future. In summary, success is perseverance through adversity.

To nurture perseverance, we require students to evaluate all current and past behavior in terms of success or failure. For example, students evaluate personal and college behavior, not only in terms of subject content, but also in terms of academic performance or GPA. Students must implement corrective action as necessary including a modification of study habits to reach their goal: transfer to the university. The guiding metaphor is the toddler learning how to walk. The child falls down many times. However, the child instinctively knows that stumbling is a temporary condition, and he simply picks himself up and keeps on walking. Paradoxically, only as adults do we learn to fear failure, rather than embrace it as a learning experience leading to success.

LEADERSHIP

Leadership has two primary components: a person with a vision and the ability to exert influence over a group to support and bring about the vision. Effective leadership requires training and practice in assessing the potential of the group members, taking an inventory of available resources, measuring what constitutes success, and establishing a corresponding time frame. Teamwork and cooperation are the foundation of this approach and help resolve the conflicts that will inevitably emerge due to the different personalities in the group.

Over and above academic knowledge, the development of personal and social skills is imperative for success in any society. Interaction with other people in a guided and structured manner is the only way to develop these skills. Early in their academic and professional development, we encourage all participants to become involved in various committees, take on leadership responsibilities, and become officers in the group. Leadership by definition tends to attract those who want to be masters of their ship. The call to action is simple but profound: “If you want it to happen, make it happen.”

In summary, LET is an experiential teacher preparation program designed to give students the opportunity to become the masters of their destinies by being involved in the decision-making process of every aspect of the program. We are not here to prepare the future for the students; rather, we are here to facilitate the process of helping students prepare themselves for the future. In the final analysis, the teacher is the ultimate navigator who must lead and instill in others the spirit to prevail and overcome personal and societal obstacles.


References & Resources

For detailed information on the Latino Educators of Tomorrow Teacher Preparation Program, see Latino Educators of Tomorrow Annual Report 2000-2001, available from Riverside Community College.

Kevin Ryan and James M. Cooper’s Those Who Can, Teach. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. I use this book in my Intro to Education course.

Works by Victor E. Frankl speak to the difficulties of the life journey. These include Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd edition. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984 and The Doctor and The Soul, 2nd edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1973.

For additional statistical information about issues related to the education of Hispanics, refer to a report prepared by President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans titled Our Nation on the Fault Line: Hispanic American Education, 1998.

Robert W. Cole’s Educating Everybody’s Children: Diverse Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1995. This text presents research-based but practical strategies for teaching diverse students.

Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: The New Press, 1995. The author addresses why schools have such a hard time making school a happy place for poor children and children of color.

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993. Explains how the theory of multiple intelligence can be applied in today’s schools.


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