Reflecting on Webinar #5: Student Empowerment and Negotiated Curriculum

On Thursday, January 10th, the PLP Pathways crew got together for what turned out to be a discussion on student empowerment and negotiated curriculum.

It was fortuitous timing as on January 12th, the Middle Grades Conference took place with many of the presentations and action research projects focused on supporting student voice, choice and the development of empowered decision making.

A driver of our conversation was the importance of partnering with students, on many different levels, to develop learning opportunities and curriculum.

Why? It is our belief that doing so raises the engagement of students, encourages the formation of democratic classrooms, and prepares students for their next life and learning stage. Although our discussion was wide-ranging (check out the video), some key takeaways included the structures that teachers can and are utilizing to increase student engagement by integrating student voice and choice into the curriculum. Here are a few of those observations.


Having students develop questions about themselves and the world can be a great way of building relationships, understanding the hopes and dreams of students, and designing and modifying curriculum to meet the needs of students. For intrepid teachers, this can also be the first step in co-designing curriculum with students.

Transferable Skills

Working with students to develop curriculum or to incorporate their views into the direction of the class learning environment can be a great way to practice and use the transferable skills. Responsible decision-making, collaboration, communication and digital citizenship are but a few of the skills that students can utilize when contributing their thoughts, ideas and direction to the class.

Leadership Opportunities

Asking students to participate in the construction of learning can provide multiple opportunities for student leadership. Students can mentor younger classmates, participate in student leadership groups, and lead smaller groups of students in the activities (brainstorming, developing themes, analyzing data, research) needed to build engaging topics of study. By framing these opportunities in terms of leadership, educators can provide intentional spaces for the development of empowered students.

At the root of this work is the development of strong positive relationships with students. Bray and McClaskey 1 have an excellent overview of how student voice, when encouraged in the classroom, can lead to the leadership opportunities mentioned above.

Increasing student voice in the classroom can lead to increased levels of trust, co-creation of materials, and positive feedback loops that can engage students and teachers alike. As students become more empowered learners, relationships can deepen, engagement can improve, and learning environments can become dynamic, flexible spaces that accommodate students skills, interests and learning goals.

Learn More

Check out these resources (or watch the video above) for more information and ideas related to empowering students.


1. Continuum of Voice: What it Means for the Learner . (2016). Retrieved 21 January 2019, from