(Cross-posted on the Google for Work Blog.)

Editor's note: Jason Markey is the Principal of East Leyden High School and was one of the panel members discussing student empowerment as part of Education on Air last Friday. We received a lot of questions about this topic and the approach at Jason’s school so we asked him to write this blog post to share more.

At Education on Air I connected with amazing educators and leaders, and learned from sessions like Jennie Magiera’s “Power to the pupil,” Michael Fullan’s “Three ways to drive system-wide change,” and Laszlo Bock’s “Making work rule.” These sessions offered everything from system-wide ideas on implementing change to building a culture for our teachers resulting in more successful schools to the steps we can take to further empower our students. I enjoyed speaking on the student empowerment panel on Friday and wanted to share a bit more about our approach at East Leyden High School.

Over the past several years, Leyden has introduced a 1:1 program with one Chromebook per student and Tech Support Internship (TSI) to support our technology initiative and offer real-world learning experiences. Having a 1:1 program means that students now have a direct line to their teachers and administrators. They write emails and Tweets to share their opinions, preferences and questions. We’ve seen our students, with the support of school administration, unite through a hashtag.

I believe that student empowerment is about introducing more choice into the classroom and opening up more opportunities for students to share their voices. My experiences at Leyden have affirmed something I’ve always believed: education, at its core, is about relationship-building and community-building. Students, like everyone else, want to feel that they’re part of a community. They want to be active participants, choosing to learn and think about and discuss the things they find relevant.

Every TSI student pursues an independent learning pathway, with options including computer programming, app development, web design or a project of her choice. TSI students have made the course their own, and often come up with new programs, like a new student orientation to introduce first-year and transfer students to Chromebooks and Google Apps. In addition TSI students volunteer their time for tech support — they’re learning skills that range from troubleshooting to communicating professionally. Here’s a video to give you a flavor of what goes on in TSI.

They also use our school hashtag, #leydenpride, to share news about our school — from athletic successes to club events and academic achievements. Twitter has become a way for us to spread positivity, share and listen, and build community and student ownership. As an example, here’s a student perspective from East Leyden Senior Maja Bulka.

As teachers and administrators, we’ve made a concerted effort to empathize with our students and see through their eyes. We do this in informal ways — through #leydenpride, for instance — as well as through more formal programs. For instance, the assistant principal and I (along with all new teachers) shadow a student for one day each year so we can better understand what it’s like to go straight from gym to an AP calculus test. Aside from shadowing, I spend as much time as I can talking to students and sitting in on classes. If we don’t understand what students have to say, we won’t be able to build the environment to engage, support and empower them.

If you want to hear more ways that educators are empowering students you might want to check out some of the recorded sessions from Education on Air like Jennie Magiera’s session “Moving beyond Genius Hour: empowering students all day” or David Chan’s session “It’s all about students: student tech programs.”