If you read all of the academic writing related to the future of work in a global economy, the bottom line can be summed up by saying that today’s students (tomorrow’s professionals), have to be more independent, self-reliant, creative, innovative, flexible and entrepreneurial. They need to be ultimately ready for a variety of daily challenges in a quickly evolving job environment.
This is at the heart of why education should be and is trying to respond through learning that is more indicative of a 21st century environment. So, if we want our future professionals to be the aforementioned, then we have move towards having our students “own their learning” now. To own their learning, educators have to embrace the STUDENT VOICE.
As a former high school media teacher and student activities director, I made a career of out of engaging, inviting, celebrating and empowering the student voice. I believed in students and wanted them to believe in themselves. So, I gave them huge amounts of trust and responsibility where their voices emerged and incredible results followed.
Embracing Student Voice cannot be faked or manufactured. Educators will have to learn to approach everything we do from the student perspective and with the students in mind. Here are three areas of practice that I have employed in order to accomplish this:
- Representation: Voice is represented by participation and opportunities to be heard. Traditionally, we have Student Government for this role. They were supposed to represent the student body for any issues that would be communicated to or need to be blessed by the administration or staff. Student Government and Leadership has expanded greatly over the years into a variety of areas, but schools could still do much more to include student representation. Ideally, students could and should be represented on all teacher/staff hiring panels, as well as committees, projects and more. What if teachers and site leaders solicited student participation in everything from PLC’s to Professional Development to Staff Meetings? For several years at my previous student-focused high school, we had students participate in a panel for the first teacher in-service day as an example, as well as on every interview/hiring panel.
(image courtesy of the California State Board of Education)
- New Roles and Responsibilities: Again, we have had students in various school roles in addition to that of student for years. We have had Teacher Assistants, Cafeteria Volunteers, Attendance Monitors, Class Monitors, Drum Majors, ASB Officers and many others. But it’s time to ratchet that up a bit. Students are ready, willing and very able to take much more responsibility and greater roles related to the success of the learning environment and school culture. We need to think about students in various leadership roles related to their academic programs. Think about each and every class or program having a coordinator or team of coordinators for things like Social Media, Communications, Documentarian, Technology, Audio/Video, and Designer just to name a few. As we move towards more project-based approaches, can we have students take on various roles in the execution of the project or challenge. My school created Student Project Coordinator as a means to expand the role and ownership of students. Students who were advanced in a given curricular area, or showed tremendous enthusiasm and skill, could apply for this position that had students in the role of facilitator of learning. Instead of Teacher Assistant, or gloried gopher, a Student Project Coordinator lead sessions, coached small groups, organized model lessons and demonstrations, did re-teaching and more.
- Student Feedback: Students have good ideas and are more than capable of providing feedback on what works in the classrooms and what can help facilitate learning. All teachers and school sites should survey students on a regular basis about their learning experiences and growth needs. My last school decided to survey our students quarterly in each class about how their learning was developing, what instructional practices were helping and what they needed in terms of specific academic support. Site Leaders can also learn by surveying students about everything from school culture to school safety. Additionally, students should be provided their peers feedback on their work and projects. In a project-based environment, peer critique and feedback are essential in formative assessment.
Naturally, one could create other avenues for student voice, and ultimately learning ownership, to emerge. And that’s the point. If you believe in the power of student voice and ownership, one should continually look to expand the implementation.