Genius is a Choice

Students attaining learning objectives via real world objectives.

GUEST COLUMN | by Angela Maiers

The two most important words anyone can hear are “You Matter.” Unfortunately, most of us go through life without hearing this nearly enough. Somehow, we begin to believe we don’t matter, we’re not enough. This stops. Right now, right here.

Students are willing to not only be the change we need; they are willing to lead the change. They are not asking for permission. They are asking for respect. They want their voices to be heard. They want to express their passions in meaningful ways. And yet too many students’ authentic voices remain silent.

Choose2Matter is the response to this silence. It is a global movement that challenges students to work collaboratively to develop innovative solutions to social problems. It is an affirmation that students have a contribution to make to the world—not later in life, but right now.

When an educator gives their students the time to matter, they inevitably choose to matter.

Three Questions that Transform Students

At the start of my teaching career, I had the realization that my students needed to know they matter. Over the course of 25 years in education, I developed a formula that leads students to this realization and moves them to action.

(1) What matters most to you? Why?

(2) What breaks your heart about that?

(3) What are we going to do about it?

Answering these questions brings amazing beliefs, cares, and ideas to the surface—the exact things we want students to express. These questions connect students to what lies in their hearts. From there, energizing them to action is as simple as making time for it.

Genius Hour: Mattering Enters the Classroom

Once students have answered the questions above, an educator’s primary role is to organize the time and space for them to act on their answers. This happens through a practice I call Genius Hour. Teachers implement Genius Hour by devoting regular time for their students to pursue passion projects. During this scheduled time, the typical constraints of the classroom are lifted so that students can have agency over their project. It breaks the routine and teaches students to embrace uncertainty.

Through Genius Hour, students attain learning objectives via real world objectives. Students who care about endangered habitats learn critical reading skills as they research polar ice caps. Students who care about getting sports equipment to children in need learn to apply math as they create a budget. Students who care about veterans with PTSD learn to use social media to connect to mental health experts. As students accomplish what they need to in the classroom, their passions bring them to places outside the classroom where their impact is felt.

Choose2Matter has organized these passions into a single online community through our Yoursphere page. This is where students share their project with other passionate young people and receive support from mentors and fellow students.

Educators looking to engage their students in this movement can take the following steps:

  1. Review our curated resources on starting Genius Hour, and schedule time for your students to pursue what matters.
  1. Create a class on Yoursphere that serves as the hub of your students’ projects and connects them to other engaged learners.

When an educator gives their students the time to matter, they inevitably choose to matter. Insist on their genius. This transforms the expectations students have for themselves and the impact they envision for their actions.

Angela Maiers has been an educator for more than 25 years. Her passionate pursuit of literacy and learning gave her the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led her through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and university-level teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting her own business. As a social media evangelist and consultant, she helps learners and leaders understand the transformative power of technology. Follow her @AngelaMaiers

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