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!