The most powerful professional development: Learning from our students

When companies want to improve their products, they go to their customers and ask for feedback. They send out surveys, seeking ideas from the people who matter most – the people who use their products and services everyday.

What if teachers did the same? What if we asked our students: how can we improve school for you? What can we do to help you be your best everyday?

img_7264-1Recently, I attended one of the most powerful professional learning experiences I have ever had. It wasn’t a keynote speaker or a published author. It was a panel of students, speaking honestly, and very eloquently, about what inspires and motivates them, and how teachers can better support them. These students shared ways that they are making a difference, both locally and globally. My insights from these students, ranging from 5th grade to high school seniors, were:

Start small. Look around you and notice others. Even holding the door open for someone can make a difference in that person’s life. Students can get overwhelmed when faced with big issues happening around the world, and feel helpless. They need to know that making a difference in their school and their neighborhood, even for a small group of people, can have a positive, lasting impact.

Personal experiences are powerful. Students are inspired by what they have seen and experienced in their own life. Teachers need to provide more opportunities for students to reflect on their own life and make connections to their experiences.

Follow your passion. If students are interested in something, then they want to study everything about it. They want to learn every detail. Again, it is so important for teachers to encourage students to learn more about things they are truly passionate about. This inspiring group of students talked about how they have overcome challenges and roadblocks, because they were passionate and motivated to keep trying. They also shared the importance of collaboration and asking for help when you need it.

Remix. Today’s students know that you don’t have to start from scratch. They are inspired by the work of others and build on it.

Not all students learn in the same way. Of course, as teachers, we know this. But, it is extremely powerful to hear it from students. How can you be sure that you are meeting the needs of all your students, unless you ask for their feedback?

If you have an idea of something you want to do, you should do it. This, shared by a fifth grade student, was perhaps the most powerful message of the day. Don’t be distracted by your own fears or doubts; if you have a good idea – then, just do it! Students have great ideas about how they can change the world. We need to provide the guidance and support they need to put these ideas into action.



  1. I love hearing about this powerful experience. We can learn so much from kids…when we listen. This is an important message to hear.

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