An Underutilized Resource

Yesterday I spent time with almost 20 students (between Grade 4-10), roughly 30 K-12 staff members, and almost 15 community members. Our event, facilitated by Tim Kubik, was focused on taking first steps to create what our school district is calling a “Student-Centered Learning Ecosystem.”

We spent time in conversation learning about designing for the end-user: our students. We also talked about what questions or topics were deeply interesting to us. Because our hope is that we can simply start small. Meaning that perhaps we can start with a partnership between classes of students and community members where they take projects together. The point being not so much, “Hey! Look at this shiny thing we all did together!” But rather, “Hey! Let’s learn about learning together, learn by doing, and continue to build our connections to each other.”

Having students in the room changed the conversation. For the better. We often say that we are “all about kids” and yet our students are rarely at the table for conversations about making school a better place for each individual.

When asked about their takeaways from their time with us, one student explained in so many words, “We can really tell our voices mattered just as much as the adults today. We felt safe sharing. The way to change school is to do this more.”

This being listening to kids. Think about that. How many precious moments of insight are missed on a daily basis because we simply don’t ask or don’t make space for our students’ voices?

Unfortunately, I believe that the weight of so many competing expectations and the unique challenges we face in schools right now has caused us to lose sight of one of our best resources: our students.

Because as Tim reminded us yesterday, we are all experts in our own experience. And in my experience, when I listen to students, there are things that suddenly feel more simple. It grounds me in what matters. It makes that decision I need to make the right one because I know it’s good for kids.

I believe it was Dr. Amy Fast who said something along the lines of, “One of the saddest ironies in education is how hard we work to figure out how students are doing and how rarely we ever ask them.”

Our students have voices. We don’t give them voices. They have voices. It is our responsibility to invite them into conversation. As Madelyn, Grade 4 said yesterday, “We have a voice, and we were allowed to use it today.”

I want today to become every day. Because as Will, Grade 5, said, “You can’t solve a problem without talking about it.”

How might we shift our school environments to become places where student talk occurs at a higher volume than educator talk? Where we as adults become more focused on learning facilitation and cultivating environments?

At the end of the day, I know this: my best days are spent listening to the people closest to the work. Our students. Our staff. Proximity matters.

The people closest to the work are the experts in their experiences, and for those of us in roles such as district office, if we don’t spend time listening to people in our schools…if we don’t spend a lot of time IN our schools, how are we any different than the legislators who make decisions that seem out of touch?

Move closer.

And listen.

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