Creating Opportunity for Students

How do we create opportunity for our students? Read on and contribute your own ideas at the end of this post! 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the amazing professional development workshop I experienced when I took part in The Montgomery Institute for Culturally Responsive Teaching. While there were many powerful takeaways from the 3 ½ day experience, one question presented at the conference returns to me again and again: “How will I create opportunity for my students?”

During the workshop we watched a video clip of Viola Davis’ Emmy acceptance speech, in which she lamented the lack of roles for black women. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Ms. Davis said, while accepting the award. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

The clip was easily transferable to a teaching context. How will we, as teachers, create opportunity for our students?  How can students possibly succeed if we do not provide them with the opportunities to experience life in a variety of ways? How can they succeed if we don’t provide them the opportunity to do so?

I thought long and hard about this question for weeks after the workshop – I’m still thinking about it. In fact, I would say that the question “How will I create opportunity for my students?” has become the central focus of my practice. Each day, I strive to design new opportunities for my students both in and out of the classroom.  

I teach in a low-income, urban school, where close to 80% of the students receive free or reduced lunch, meaning they live at or below poverty level. My fellow teachers and I constantly work to create opportunities to help level the playing field so our students can compete with their wealthier peers. Affluent school districts can provide their students with tremendous opportunities, including state-of-the-art science labs, first rate books and materials, cutting edge technology, overseas field trips, expensive SAT preparatory classes, small class sizes, smaller guidance counselor caseloads. While urban, low-income, multicultural schools also provide students with powerful experiences, linking students with opportunity is of the utmost importance.

Former students have told me that the most meaningful opportunities our school has provided for them include:

  • Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) – ELOs help prepare our students for our increasingly global world so that they can thrive in the 21st century. They provide learners with high-quality, real-world experiences in many different fields. These opportunities help students acquire complex skills in a real-world context in which they collaborate and work in a variety of ways in the fields of technology, education, law, health care, and communications, to name a few.
  • Advanced Placement Courses – AP courses are great equalizers for students, who take and pass the same test as their wealthier counterparts. Students earn college credit when they receive a qualifying grade on an AP exam, and this enables them to save money and stand out in the college admissions process. The rigor, discourse, and inquiry in an AP class helps students prepare for college level work and enables them to develop the study habits and work ethic to be successful in college.
  • A Variety of Co-Curricular Offerings – A variety of co-curricular activities from Chorus to Yearbook helps students develop expertise, and they provide students with an opportunity to work in collaborative situations. Clubs like our school’s Culture Club help students share and experience culture by attending museums, ballets, plays, and by taking part in community service activities. Our award-winning Robotics team has enabled students to develop and master skills in real-world situations. Co-curricular activities have had an enormous impact on our students over the years, and they continue to grow and evolve as our world changes.
  • Powerful Electives – Electives in everything from Music Technology to the Introduction to Engineering to The Walking Dead can help students explore learning outside the core curriculum. Electives provide a new way to apply learning, and they can help students explore career ideas. They can also help students think and write in new ways. Since electives expand the curriculum and are often offered in heterogeneous groupings, students make new friends and can work collaboratively to help each other achieve. A wide variety of electives provides a powerful enrichment for students and helps teens become more well rounded.
  • Field Trips – I am a huge advocate for learning which takes place outside the classroom walls. Attending plays, dance performances, and lectures, and visiting museums and art exhibits help students gain new cultural competencies, and the effects can be long-lasting and far-reaching. Field trips open students up to new experiences, and over the years, so many of my former students have told me that our field trips have had a profound impact on them for which they will forever be thankful.

I will continue to look for more ways to provide opportunities for my students. If you have ideas, please post them below!


  • Kaitlyn

    Creating Opportunity for Students

    Hello Nancy!

    My name is Kaitlyn and i'm a preservice teacher, currently two ywars in to my teaching program where I study English education. I really appreciated this post, as well as the one on the workshop you attended. I agree that certain students don't have the same opportunities as others, and as teachers we should do as much as we can to create those opportunities for them. My question for you is, in a school with relatively low resources, how do you, as a teacher in your classroom day-to-day, work to create opportunity for your students when they might not have the resources they need, whether in the classroom or at home?

    • NancyBarile

      One Great Resource

      One great resource for teachers who teach in low income schools is Donorschoose. Over the years, I’ve gotten at least $10,000 worth of materials from Donorschoose including books, netbooks, an air hockey table, a guest speaker, and in May, my students and are are taking the train to New York City. I highly recommend Donorschoose. That being said, until the leaders of this country address educational inequity, teachers and their students in low income schools will continue to face a very uphill battle.

  • Janet Sheaffer

    Creating Opportunity for Students

    Nancy, I really like your point about powerful electives. If to give a lesson in an informal atmosphere students can easier work in teams and make new friends. The other thing is that not every student wants to visit such extracurricular activities. Because it's easier to stay in a comfort zone and not to learn something new.

    • NancyBarile


      I’ve been very successful in getting students from all different backgrounds to participate in activities. When I ran our Future Teachers Club at the local middle school, the middle school students became the Future Teachers – and these were not the top ten percent of the class who run most of the clubs in a high school. I’ve also recruited students from my classes and advisory to take part in club activities, and that has also beeen successful. I’ve even created hoodies that were SO COOL that students BEGGED to join Book Club. 

  • Savannah Yslas

    Teacher as Advocate

    Hi Nancy!

    I am currently a sophmore at Colorado State University and I am a prospective English Teacher. I am doing a project in one of my course in which I am researching how to be an teacher and an advocate for education. I agree with you that there are a lot of hurdles to jump over for our students to succeed, especially if they are given few opportunities to do so. I love all the opportunities that are offered through your school to ensure that your students have the resources they need to be successful. I think your advocacy for extra curriculars is really important. In school, I was always involved in a club or sport and I think that having my work load from school as well as having to deal with time management due to my extra curriculars, gave me the opportunity to be a successful student and leader. It is important to me as an advocate for education that my future students get the opportunites they need to be successful and I strive to take action as you have.

    Thanks so much for sharing your teaching experiences!


  • elizabeth0012

    As students and teachers head

    As students and teachers head back into the classrooms, they are likely thinking about all they will have to learn and teach, respectively. For math in particular, students may be dreading learning new formulas and procedures. What students do not often recognize is that math is not simply about memorizing, but about being able to improvise and see what could work in a given situation.

    need someone to write my essay, a psychology professor at UCLA and Carnegie Senior Fellow, describes this as having “flexible expertise.” According to Stigler, flexible expertise provides students the ability to adapt to new situations and solve problems by drawing on previous learning and experiences.

  • JohnMichel

    Hello Nancy Barile! Your

    Hello Nancy Barile! Your subject is extremely useful for any student and frequently my concentration stay like these kinds of blog posts. Non-Fake College Degree. Getting happier that I could check an impressive article.