Author Q&A: Andi McNair Talks Empowering Teaching Strategies
Andi McNair Talks Empowering Teaching Strategies: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Thursday, July 18, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

How do you organize what may seem like a chaotic mess into a classroom that empowers students to engage with content and pursue their passions? A Meaningful Mess offers suggestions and specific tools that can be used to engage this generation of students in meaningful, relevant, and student-driven learning experiences—even if things in the classroom may get messy, both literally and figuratively. Learn more about the strategies in this book and how they empower learners in this interview with the author, Andi McNair. 


Q: Why is your book titled A Meaningful Mess? How did the idea originate?

A: The title originated in my classroom as I realized that those words were a perfect representation of my teaching style. Learning was messy in my room and it wasn’t always easy. However, with a shift in my mindset and willingness to try new things and listen to my learners, I found ways to make that messy learning meaningful.


Q: What makes Gen Z learners so different from previous generations? How do teachers need to modify their approach to reach these learners?

A: Gen Zs have the information that we have delivered to past generations of students in their pockets. They no longer need us to spoon-feed them content but instead need opportunities to learn through application. Today’s learners are not compliant because they don’t have to be. There are so many different ways that they can learn, and if we aren’t willing to find ways to engage and empower them, they aren’t willing to invest. I think teachers need to begin to design experiences for today’s learners that will leave an impression. Although that doesn’t mean that we have to always entertain, it does mean that we must be intentional in what we are delivering and how we are doing so.


Q: Why are the 4 C’s + 1 R so important to the classroom environment?

A: The 4 C’s + 1 R are life skills that we know today’s learners will need beyond the classroom. These skills must be practiced, and it’s important for educators to give their students opportunities to do so. Simply weaving collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and reflection into what you are already doing in your classroom will give learners an opportunity to prepare for future opportunities.


Q: What’s one of the first things a teacher can do to move away from a classroom culture of compliance to a culture of empowerment?

A: The first thing that teachers can do to shift from compliance to empowerment is to see the reality of their own classroom. Sometimes, we begin to see our students and our classroom for what we want them/it to be rather than what they are/it is. It’s important to ask learners for feedback, observe their behavior, and listen to their feedback. In doing so, you will be able to see your classroom for what it is versus what you hope that it might be. The key to empowerment is letting go of some of the control that we’ve always had as educators and trusting our students enough to not only listen, but also act on their feedback. Trust them to solve problems and be willing to let them struggle without running to the rescue. This shift is not an easy one, especially for those of us who have been in the classroom for many years. However, it’s necessary in order to give today’s learners the opportunities that they need to become lifelong learners.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: I hope that readers begin to love teaching again and realize that messy learning is not wrong as long as it’s meaningful. I want to help educators love what they do and realize that they were meant to be designers of experiences. It’s an exciting time to be an educator, and I believe that when we begin to see today’s learners for who they are and teach in a way that makes sense to them, we will have students who want to be at school, look forward to learning, and feel prepared for their lives beyond the classroom. I want to help spark that passion for teaching and learning in both teachers and students so that education can be all that it was meant to be.


Andi McNair is the Digital Innovation Specialist at ESC Region 12 in Waco, TX. Before working at the center, she taught elementary and gifted/talented students at a small rural school in Texas. Andi was in the classroom for a total of 16 years before pursuing her passion to change education by giving educators practical ways to create experiences that will engage and empower this generation of learners.