Let’s Increase the Volume in Student Voice

Pump up the VolumeAs educators, when asked if we should increase “student voice” in the classroom or schools, our quick response is often “Yes, of course!”  However, in reality, are we really, truly engaging our students in leading our schools, having a say in our curriculum, contributing to our decision-making?  I know we do try.  For example, we have student councils, we ask for student input in surveys, we give choice to students in projects, we ask them to self-reflect and students participate on some committees.  We ask for their feedback, we listen, right?  However, student voice needs to go beyond just listening.

Harvard Researcher Brion-Meisels points out:

 “Listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective…It means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Giving Students a Voice by Leah Shafer).

 In the past month, I participated in four activities that really solidified my own thinking about student voice.

1. Search Committee

The first was a middle school principal search committee where we had students involved in the interview and recommendation process.  What was amazing about the interview process was that our students truly had a seat at the table.  They brought their own questions as representatives of the student body.  (The best questions on our list came from our students!)  Then, when we had discussions as a committee, we went to our students first and listened.  Their responses were exactly on point and we were thrilled to have them contribute to the conversation, use evidence to support their arguments, and provide a student perspective, such as,  “If she were the principal of my school, I would love coming to school!”

2.  Student Discussion

The second instance was a meeting with student representatives at our high schoolIMG_3602 where they were asked a series of questions about the school such as:

  1. Beyond friends, what do you look forward to at school each day?
  2. If you could change one thing at our school, what would it be?
  3. If you could give one piece of advice to teachers or administrators, what would it be?”

The following discussion could have continued for a lot longer than the time allotted because the students in the room were excited that they had an opportunity to share their thoughts on what they loved about their school and ideas for improvement.  It was an incredibly powerful discourse filled with respect, reasons supported by evidence, and excitement.  It certainly was the highlight of my week!  The students, who were representative of various grades and interests, described the school as welcoming, inviting, and inclusive.  They enthusiastically provided why they loved coming to school and usually it was because of a single enthusiastic teacher who had made learning exciting.  They wanted to have more opportunities for relevant learning opportunities and meaningful homework.  They liked using technology, but only when it fit the purpose of the assignment, rather than fitting the assignment around the technology.

3.  Student Events–  3rd-Grade Tea

IMG_3897Yesterday, I was lucky to participate in a 3rd grade tea that was being held for seniors in the community.  Sitting in the middle of a table of about 11, third graders, it was an opportunity for me to ask them about their school experience. Coming off of the high school discussion recently, I figured I’d stick to some of the same questions.  I asked them: 1.  “What do you like most about coming to school?” 2. “If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?”  3.  “What is your favorite subject?”  The students eagerly shared their love for math (that was the #1 choice around the table) and we had a few who liked reading.   Some wished they had more time for recess, and thought the end of the day would be the best time to do that before leaving for the day.  They said they wished they had more opportunities to learn science, and they shared their favorite books of choice.  They liked their music class and were looking forward to learning to play musical instruments in the future.  They wanted less homework, but admitted they didn’t have too much each night and Lexia was a big hit because they found it to be a fun way to learn.  WOW! That’s A LOT of feedback.

4.  Student Panels

Last month our counselors provided a workshop to other educators on the implementation of Wellness Weeks.  As part of the workshop, the counselors had student representatives speak to the educators about their thoughts about the effectiveness and impact on wellness weeks from a student perspective.  To be expected, the educators in the room were enthralled listening directly from students about their view on the positive impact of these successful practices.  Adding student voice to these panels was highly effective!

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3 Steps To Increase Student Voice

If you are looking to take action and  increase student voice, consider some of the following questions:

  1.  Do students have a seat at the table?  

    Think about all the meetings and committees that take place in a school or district and corresponding decision-making.  Every time you have a meeting, ask yourself…what if students were here with us at the table?  In our district, we have student representatives to the School Committee, students on our Spanish Immersion board, students on panel presentations, and students on interview committees.  Despite all of those opportunities, there is definitely room for growth as well.

  2. Are we asking for student input in a consistent way and then following up with implementation?  

    If you are a district that does not use surveys of students regularly, then that is a great way to begin this process.  Surveys are an effective way to gather data, solicit input, and to help inform decisions in a classroom, school, or district.  The key to successful student surveys is that the data is then applied to implement change.  It is even more effective when students are part of this process of analysis and discussion.  Ask yourself, are you sharing the data with the students and are you implementing change based on input?

  3. Do students have input into and the ability to drive their own learning at school?  

    Although we work within a  standards-based system, that does not mean that students can’t have input into their own learning.  There are many ways to increase student voice in learning from input into units, activities, the questions they will answer, or the ways they are assessed.  Check out this resource from Chicago on how to have students co-shape curriculum:  Seven Steps to Students Co-Shaping Curriculum or this article from the organization we use for surveys called K-12 insight:  How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions.

Resources

If you are looking for more resources about how to increase student voice, here are some examples of how it is being done in schools across the world.

In my own research about student voice, I came across a local school to ours that has a Student Voice Community Service Program at their middle school.  What an interesting approach and a way to say at that school–student voice matters.   http://cvirzi.wixsite.com/student-voice/contact

5 Videos to Watch on Giving Voice to Students

Including Student Voice by Bill Palmer

Student Power by Milton Chen

Next Steps

After reflecting on the above questions, I challenge you to take one step forward in increasing student voice before the end of this school year.  Using the comment feature of this blog, please share out one way that you will try to increase student voice as an educator.

 

 

The Force is Strong #Shadowastudent

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I’m a huge Star Wars fan and in thinking about my experience shadowing an 11th grade student, Diana Richard, I couldn’t help but think about the quote “The Force is strong with this one.”  What a dynamic, caring, and  outstanding young woman!  The Force was not just strong with that one student….but with her peers, with the teachers, and within the school.  “The culture is strong” would be an apt reference to my biggest takeaway from shadowing.

Walking in the shoes of a student gives one an opportunity to view the day-to-day interactions in a new way.  As Diana said “Hi” to every student she passed and called them by name, the other students responded in turn.  The best moment was when a student was walking by the classroom at the start of class and saw Diana, so she stopped and made a heart with her fingers in front of her chest before going on to the next class.  I can’t remember the last time someone walked by me at work and was so excited that they made a heart-shaped symbol?

IMG_3167During the Help Desk in the morning, we had an opportunity to talk about what she liked best about school, what her favorite classes were, and what her goals were in the future.  In P.E. class, we laughed as I tried to show my ‘mad’ skills in badminton during a tournament.  At break, we hung out with all of the other juniors in the media center and I was schooled in professional wrestling and the students’ interest in watching that.

 

 

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In math class, our teachers provided great scaffolding on our graphs, as we worked collaboratively in groups to work through the problems.

 

Before lunch, in English class we participated in a mock School Board presentation where two groups presented on whether or not to ban Huckleberry Finn.  
IMG_3170As someone who has attended many School Board meetings over the last decade, this was probably one of the most educationally focused and friendly one I’ve ever witnessed!  

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After lunch, we analyzed some of the text of The Great Gatsby to determine evidence of Nick Carroway’s point of view and being an insider vs. an outsider.

 

In history class, we analyzed political cartoons from World War II to identify stereotypes, analogies, juxtaposition, captioning, and labels to get at the essential question of “What’s the human impact of war?”   

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While my biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the content presented as I have already analyzed The Great Gatsby, taught lessons on WWII political cartoons, mastered badminton and graphed math problems in my former life, the takeaway was the interactions that took place between the spaces of content.  In each class there were opportunities for students to work collaboratively with one another, in pairs, in groups, and online.  Teachers provided the perfect amount of support and scaffolds, like in the story of Goldilock (not too hot, not too cold, just right…).  In each class, the teacher-student relationships created environments where students were willing to share their ideas, speak in front of the room, or even help the 40-something year old new student.

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck” was what Obi-Wan told Han Solo after Han Solo claimed that there was no force controlling everything.  I would agree with Obi-Wan that that it is not luck that creates such a warm, inviting environment that I experienced in my shadowing day, but a commitment of all members of the Nipmuc community in creating a safe, engaging, caring environment where “The Force is strong.”

Summer Reading

For our MSSAA assistant principal committee we agreed to read the following books for summer reading:

Trust Edge and Crucial Conversations

The Trust Edge by David Horsager and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson.  Both of these I have read in the past and recommended, but in reading them again, they definitely are timeless and great reminders of how those of us in education and as educational leaders are ultimately in a people business.

The Trust Edge provides great examples and strategies to follow the “pillars of trust” to help have the right edge to lead your organization.

Crucial Conversations is an excellent introduction to how to provide feedback and have honest conversations, which can sometimes be difficult. It provides great insight into how to make conversations fruitful and focused on continuous improvement.

Other recommended reads this summer include:

Please add in suggestions of books that other educational leaders should read.