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.)