If you’re at #ISTE18 right now, or following #notatISTE18 (like me), you’ll know that some of the most popular and meaningful sessions are the ones with student voice. It’s exciting and refreshing to hear how these students are taking ownership of their learning and innovating both in and out of the classroom. Imagine if all students had the opportunity to pursue their passions and the support to share their voice?
Here are some ideas for bringing Student Voice to your classroom next year:
Build Relationships. First things first. Take time at the beginning of the year to get to know your students – their interests, their hobbies, their worries, and their dreams. As #ISTE18 opening keynote speaker, David Eagleman shared, (@davideagleman) this generation learns differently. They think differently. They even read differently! Their eyes naturally scan from up to down, rather than side to side! Ask how many of your students have their own YouTube Channel – you might be very surprised to see what they are creating outside of school. Why not help them use their time in school to pursue their passions? Take time at the beginning of the year to build community and get to know each other. Confer with each student one-on-one about their goals for the year, send out surveys to collect anonymous ideas and feedback, connect with families to truly understand the whole child. Another great way to build relationships is to interact with students outside the school day – attend sporting events or drop by their after-school job to let them know you see them as a person, not just a student.
Let them be Problem-Seekers. If you want to know how to improve school, just ask the students. They know what isn’t working – and they probably have ideas on how to fix it. Start by asking them to design the classroom – how to arrange the desks? how to store supplies? Co-create the classroom norms and agreements. Ask for their input on school-wide policies and procedures. Students could write a persuasive essay to the principal about banning plastic from campus, or deliver a speech to the board about extending recess time. Include students in PD! The most powerful professional learning I’ve ever experienced was a student panel. Or interview students in a video and share with teachers. It’s so eye-opening to hear their perspective! This video, called Being a Kid, was shared with teachers near the end of the year, when report cards were due and everyone was stressed! Sometimes we forget that the students are stressed, too! It was a great way to build empathy for our students.
Expand student influence to the community. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper about cleaning up a local park. Don’t stop there – go global! #TeachSDGs offers lots of great ways to help students inform and inspire. Start your own global movement like The Upstander Brand, created by F. Margaret Atkinson (@fmargaret).
Spark Curiosity with Genius Hour and Passion Projects. Student-directed learning should not be an “extra” added on after everything else has been covered. It’s about giving students a choice in what they learn about – no matter what the subject matter is. I absolutely love AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani)and John Spencer’s (@spencerideas) The LAUNCH Cycle for this. Let students be curious and ask questions! Don’t give them the answers – you don’t even need to have all the answers! Let them explore and figure it out. Or, as David Eagleman said, let them “sandbox” – they should play with ideas, bending, breaking, and blending them to form new connections and think flexibly. Students need to make meaning for themselves; often, the best thing we can do is get out of their way!
Student panelist Marley Rosario (@marleyrosario) said it perfectly:
A lot of times teachers want to give you a blueprint that we follow step by step but my best teachers gave me tools and support to create meaningful change.
Leave a Legacy. The legacy of a teacher is not what they do, but what their students are able to do because of them. What will your students be able to create…because of you and the opportunities you gave them? What problems will they solve…because of you and the inspiration you gave them? These two questions from George Couros (@gcouros) are great to guide long-term learning. David Eagleman predicted that we are moving from an “information economy” into a “creativity economy.” Will our students be ready to enter this new and ever-changing world?
If you really want your students to be successful, it’s essential for you to think long-term, and empower your students to leave a legacy – to make a mark that will last beyond their one year with you. Students should leave your classroom with a digital portfolio or blog to showcase all they have created. They should initiate projects that will continue after they have left your classroom. A legacy is accumulated over time. Each day is an opportunity—an opportunity for your students to write another chapter of their legacy.
The most impactful change you can make for next year is to listen to your students and let them lead the way.