Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Embracing a Culture of Student Voice

The largest stakeholders of education, students, are the least involved in that very same education. There is a passion gap in students of how exciting learning can be and how exciting reality is. There are decisions being made that affect the lives of students deeply, and they are not consulted at all. And the worst part of this is that adults try to involve students and just miss the target and end up with an arrow through the wall instead. To truly involve student voice, an entire culture must change, responsibilities must be delegated, and voices must not only be heard, but listened to.

To involve student voice in the classroom, the whole school must change and embrace this ideology that students have valuable opinions and knowledge to share. The simplest, yet most challenging for many teachers, way to start student voice in their classroom is including student voice and student choice. Let them choose what they do, how they do it, and what they do. Students will learn and be engaged much more once they are handed the responsibility to make their own decisions and not get an education, but make their own education. This simple change, if looking at it vertically where the teacher is at the top and students are at the bottom, will equal them both to the middle. Students will be brought up from the bottom of this ladder by being given choices and the right to have opinions. Teachers will step aside and come down from the podium once students are given control. This shift in classroom leadership in an individual classroom is not a revolution of students overturning the entire school, but simply being brought up to a closer level of collaboration with the adults that hold all the power to their future.

Student empowerment cannot stop at the classroom level. To truly create a culture of student voice the school building and even district needs to invest in students by allowing them leadership roles across the schools. When visitors walk into Bettendorf High School, the first person they see is a student working as a liaison in the office. How powerful that message is to have a student be the first person seen in the office. This builds a culture of excellence across all parts of the school. The world has enough average and by putting students in leadership roles across the building they are being brought up and learning to do more and better themselves as individuals. If you look district wide, there is literally nothing that can be lost by giving students representation in a school board, district leadership team, hiring committees, and any other public positions. Students are not asking for the world, but ways to better the world they live in and will adopt. The decisions being made by adults will affect today’s students that will be forced to live with the consequences of them.

As students, we are not trying to start a revolution even though students possess the tools to do so. The Mubarak Regime that reigned in Egypt for 40 years was brought down by people using devices to voice their opinion, gather to represent them, and share the results with those around the world. Even the government with guns, missiles, and nuclear bombs could not make their citizens stand down. Students are not in anyway attempting anything this large, but are simply demanding to have a say in affairs that affect all students. As an adult, realize the power students possess and have to offer, and work to unleash that in all of the students in the class you lead. It all starts with students knowing that they matter, can make a difference, and being empowered to stand up and do so. You Matter, and your students do too!