Shifting the focus on student voice

Posted on 04.25.2013


I visited a public school a few weeks ago where the faculty and community had done a wonderful job of creating structures to support student achievement.   The community and staff built a public school that was completely geared toward supporting a 21st century learning.  They had wonderful public spaces, a schedule that allowed for collaboration, flexibility and time for students to gain additional support from staff and peers.  The school had great resources for students to conduct research and pursue projects.  It allowed for student freedom and created a bridge to the community outside the school.  This school’s structure was geared around two international programs that are highly respected and it was all done very very thoughtfully.

As I walked the halls I was so impressed and excited to see educators being so thoughtful and purposeful about the systems they were creating.  It was clear that this school was all about supporting student learning.  This school was built for  doing incredible projects and every second of the day was planned – I could almost see the steam pouring out of the ears of everyone there from all the mental gymnastics that was being done.

This school had created structures centered on creating a successful student.

I worry that they missed an important point about success.

Success can be having a strong, passionate voice; it can be about taking risks and maybe not getting it right the first few times.  Or ever.  Success can revolve around showing empathy and understanding pain and happiness and celebrating special moments throughout the day.

In order to do that a school must listen to it’s students and give them opportunities to speak and be heard.  Schools should contain structure but the structure should center around the students and at the best of times, come from students.

My favorite moments in the classroom are when the students “take over” and bring us in a new direction.  There are moments when a student asks a question or poses an idea that is important to them or important to the class.  That moment contains real meaning and is worth exploring:

It’s worth exploring because you MUST use content to create meaning out of it.

It’s worth exploring because you MUST use 21st century skills (I’m still not sure what that really means) to understand it fully.

It’s worth exploring because at the end of the day, it creates a life-long learner who, with guidance, will also understand what resiliency and success really mean.

As educators we must create structures that allow students to be successful but we must also remember to build structures that are student centered, that allow students to flex their voice and be ready to explore what they might have to say.  After all, how can we really teach and learn if we don’t listen, reflect and then respond in kind?

Posted in: Ed-talk, Pedagogy