How much do you value student voice?

This year our school board joined the global New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) initiative, and at a day-long event to launch the project we invited students and parents from participating schools to join our discussions about how we envisioned transforming education in our schools. It felt refreshing to have students and parents at the table with teachers and administrators. This was the first time that I had been at an event where all stakeholders were present, and the resulting change in the flavour and focus of our discussions was positive. Near the end of the day, the room was filled with positive energy and the teachers and administrators felt ready to go back to our schools and do some transformative work. Big dreams, big ideas, big questions.

We were all brought back to Earth abruptly when a student (who had been invited to reflect on the day) shamelessly stated his opinion about the event. To paraphrase, he had not had a good day, and stated specifically that we had spent too much time sitting, talking, watching videos and listening to presenters. (He may have gone so far as to say that the day seemed pointless, though I may not be remembering this clearly.) The student’s comments took our breath away, but we knew he was completely correct before he had finished speaking. On that day, the presence of the students had been valuable to us and enriched our discussions but the day was not designed to be particularly valuable to the students. We listened to some of their ideas and their presence helped us stay focused on our purpose but in their eyes they had been little more than decorative. Not good.


This morning a colleague and I had the pleasure of sitting down with some students to do some planning for our next board-wide NPDL event. We did our best to listen to their concerns and ideas and let them lead the way in creating a plan for the 40 students who will attend our event next month. With their help, we will be able to provide an experience that students will value and we are certain that their voice will not be lost in the stream of ‘edu-babble’ that often saturates days like these. I don’t want to give anything away about the specific plans (more to blog about after the event!) but was compelled to write this post because of the questions that bubbled up when I reflected on my day:

How often have I asked students ‘big questions’ about what they need to help them learn?

How many students in our schools think that their opinions about their learning are valued?

How much value do I place on student voice in my classroom?

If I say that I value student voice, how can I show that I have used it to inform my teaching?

What role does student voice play in driving key decisions at the system level?

If you’re looking for inspiration or for the motivation to make a change, take a moment in the next few days to ask some students their views on their education. Ask them what they need from you to improve their learning experience and make sure that you really listen to their answers. Use the students’ ideas to make your classroom, school, or system work better for them. 

 Not sure if this is a good idea? In the words of a wise father of a dear friend: 

“Can’t hurt. Might help.”

(Good advice in many situations, including this one.)

Twitter and My PLN

Our recent board-wide launch of our New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) project saw students, parents, teachers, and administrators gather in the same space to share their vision for education. We discussed barriers to progress and helped find ways to overcome them. We talked about the value of community connections and the power of student voice. We struggled with the open-ended nature of the project and the feeling of responsibility that comes with creating new learning in our schools.
During the NPDL launch we were encouraged to share our thinking throughout the day through Twitter. Many of us were happily ‘tweeting’ during many of the presentations and discussions. We tweeted to help us share insights, distill out the ‘big ideas,’ and acknowledge the contributions of other individuals around us. At about the midpoint of the day I overheard a comment from a teacher that could have come from me six months ago. To paraphrase, he said: ‘It’s a shame so many people are so busy Tweeting that they’re not listening.’ His words stopped me in my tracks. I understood his feelings completely. It was only about five months ago that I started using Twitter as a tool for professional learning, and it is only in the last month that I have come to appreciate its value.
Your professional learning network (we all have one) includes anyone you are connected to that enriches your work. When my daughters were born and I was on maternity leave, the other new mothers in the neighborhood were part of my professional learning network for parenthood. Friends and family who could offer advice or expertise on the telephone or by email were also part of that network. I would also consider strangers who shared their questions and advice on the web to be part of my network (like when you Google ‘how to get my kid to eat vegetables?’).
My professional learning network as a teacher has always included my colleagues, teacher friends near and far, and occasionally those teachers who shared their experiences and resources on the internet in a way that was searchable (many thanks to those strangers, by the way!). New tools like Twitter have significantly changed my ability to connect with like-minded individuals in a meaningful way. On Twitter I ‘follow’ people who post information that enriches my learning. Many people I follow tweet information about current education research, the incorporation of technology in the classroom, or ideas and philosophies that challenge my thinking. Another subset of people I follow includes teachers in my school board that are sharing the work they do in their classrooms.
I don’t have time to read every tweet that I have welcomed into my account, but I have the power to organize my Twitter account in such a way that I won’t miss the most important bits. Tweeters use hashtags to help sift through the billions of tweets on the internet to find useful information. During our NPDL launch we used two hashtags: ‘#NPDL’ and ‘#SCDSB.’ During the BringIT Together conference we used ‘#bit14.’ During the Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario conference last week we used ‘#STAO2014.’ If you do a search on Twitter for any of these terms you’ll find a rich collection of thoughts, ideas, photos, resources, and links posted by the people tweeting at these events. I can go back to these searches to find a link or idea that I want to explore further. I can look at my own tweets to recapture my state of mind during a keynote speech. I can see who else was tweeting if I want to connect or reconnect with people who were at the event. I think of these searches as collective ‘meeting minutes’ created by a giant human flock of tweeting attendees. This type of communication is called ‘backchaneling’ (participating in an electronic, real-time conversation during a live event) and can be a great way to hear and record opinions of all types of people. I would have been the last kid to put my hand up at school but I might have produced a flurry of on-topic tweets in the background given the opportunity.

So, back to the comment made at the NPDL launch. Confronted with someone who held the same opinions I held six months ago regarding social media I had to think carefully about my response. Aside from a 30-minute lecture on the wonders of Twitter, my options were limited:

“We arelistening,” might sound too defensive.

“Here, let me show you how awesome this is!” might be a little too pushy for some.

My choice? “I know it looks like we’re not listening, but we are. {insert big smile} Think of it like taking notes as a group.”

Hopefully that was enough to raise some curiosity about the process. Hopefully I was able to communicate that I was listening and participating.

If you’ve read this far and you’re Twitter-curious (but reluctant to actually give it a go yourself), check out these ‘Storify’ collections of Tweets from the three events I discussed. Each little story is only a small subset of the tweeting that went on, but will hopefully give you a taste of what it is we’re all doing when we hear a speaker say something wonderful only to turn to our devices and start tapping away at a tweet.
Tweet collections from Storify (there are three here; check them out!):


ECOO conference (#bit14):



STAO conference (#STAO2014):