Teenagers as leaders: More freedom means more rigor
Updated: Apr 4
After a long hiatus and a lot of uncertainty with Together Tulsa, I have been working behind the scenes for quite some time on rebuilding and reawakening a dream.
I have been able to use my SPIRE curriculum for the Journalism class I teach at my school for students on the Humanities Pathway.
What we’ve been able to do over the course of our first quarter together is nothing short of a dream come true.
In the first few weeks of the program, I led students through a series of workshops in journalism. We learned about the Principles of Journalism; we learned how to identify stakeholders and connect with credible sources; we learned how to conduct a professional interview; and we learned how to write an AP Style article.
But the real learning happened once our “class” became an “agency”. The real learning happened when I was no longer their teacher but rather their agency adviser. The real learning happened when I no longer told them what to do but allowed students to become editors leading the staff on their teams.
Ms. Lade’s English classroom turns into a full-blown media agency after lunch. We have Department Editors that lead staff in School Life, Community, and News & Issues. School Life staff members are often roaming the building, taking photos for their spreads or interviewing teachers and students. Community staff members have taken self-directed “field trips” to various places to conduct interviews for their features on homelessness in Tulsa, and more. The News & Issues team plays NPR every day as they work to give a youth voice to the most current issues facing our globe, our nation, and our community.
Our Production Managers ensure stories and content come with all the right elements and that trackers are updated. They translate all articles from Spanish to English or English to Spanish so all those in our target audience can engage with our content. Our Creative Team sits at its own “desk”, designing different pages of our website and uploading new content.
Our Editors-in-Chief and Production Managers work together, floating from department to department, to ensure editors and staff are on-deadline and supporting them with whatever they need.
My journalists have more freedom in the four walls of our “agency” than they’ve ever had at school. They use their cell phones for recording and transcribing interviews; they have free reign to talk to each other as they need to; they are self-directed and accountable to their peers.
The only parameters I supply are deadlines: three pieces of content per department due every Tuesday. Each professional, depending on their role in our agency, also has a required number of articles and content to produce.
I am simply a guide; they do the real work.
I watch and encourage as they explore things they care about, support one another, go way outside the bounds of their comfort zone, send professionally written emails, interview people they’ve never met, coordinate meet-ups with one another outside of school for the story, write opinion pieces that uplift their voices, and make plans for producing meaningful content on their website.
And I can’t help the smile that splays across my face when they text me or come running down the hall to tell me about who they just interviewed, where they went, and what they learned.
This - this freedom and joy and exploration and discovery - this is rigor. They are learning, and more importantly practicing, skills they’ll need to know and do in the real world. They’re taking real ownership over their learning, even with all the freedom they’re given, because it has real meaning.
Every day we announce the number of “new visitors” their website has had - and that number keeps growing. Right now, we're at 242. That number keeps teaching them that what they can do matters, that people are listening, that they have a voice, and that they therefore have power.
Now, that's a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
Times are uncertain right now with COVID-19, but there are ways you can get involved when life goes back to normal. We’re always looking for people in the community to share their stories or work with our youth.