Today I had the opportunity listen to high school students of all ages talk about their learning experiences.
Students continue to inspire me with their incredible insights and with the thoughtful, honest, and respectful ways they navigate these kinds of conversations.
Our students have so much to share about what works well for them and what they need. But perhaps what inspires me even more is their ability to think about their fellow classmates; I’m impressed by their ability to empathize with experiences that may be different than their own. Furthermore, high school students really want to make their school, their community, and this world a better place for all students – not just themselves. We went through a design sprint today, and the thoughts and ideas students shared made me not only want to be a better educator and leader, but they made me want to be a better person.
One comment that really stood out to me, “We’ve got the academic part of school down. We need to work on the human part of school.”
Wow. Yes. We do. We are humans first. All of us. Adults and kids alike. First and foremost, we must center the humanity of those in our ecosystem. Psychological safety is essential for learning to take place. Being humans first is vital if we are to ever get to deeper levels of connection and learning. True learning is a deeply human experience. If we don’t make space to look at the world around us, get deeply curious, and try to do hard things alongside others, we won’t have what it takes to solve some of the world’s most complex problems.
The best way to learn about what our students need and about how to engage our students in schools is to involve them in the conversation AND in the design. We talk a lot about being “student-centered” but how often are our students at the table, sharing and planning with us?
Its easy to lose our way and forget our why because our work is hard. Really hard. A lot comes our way in any given day. It’s easy to forget that there are students on the other side of our conversations and the decisions we make. But not when kids are at the table. When kids are at the table, there is your why – right there alongside you.
I’m convinced that the best way to plan professional learning moving forward is with students and educators at the same table. In fact, students should be co-facilitators of our professional learning. At a minimum, student voice can be captured in various forms and shared during our professional learning.
At the heart of what students shared today, I heard how much teachers matter. Specifically, how much they value and need teachers who make them feel seen, cared for, and appreciated. I also think there is a myth out there that kids think they know everything. These students were very honest in saying how much it worries them that they “don’t know what they don’t know.” They are craving opportunities to learn about world of work and how they might create the lives they desire as adults. They talked about how impactful experiential and interactive learning can be. One student said, “Why would I care about rocks and dirt from looking at pictures in a book? When the teacher took me to go explore fossils in person, I couldn’t help but learn and be interested in fossils! I wouldn’t have cared about rocks otherwise!” Another group of students noted how wonderful it would be to care more about their learning than their GPA’s.
Others talked about how they are motivated to come to school because their parents have helped them see this is a necessary step to get them to where they want to be, but they know other students don’t have that perspective, and therefore don’t have that same motivation for school. They acknowledged that is hard, and we need to find new ways inspire students who aren’t motivated in the same ways.
These are complex problems. Our students are not empty vessels to be filled up when they come to school. They have important insights and assets to bring to the table to help us move forward, moving forward in ways that center our individual and collective humanity. Students can help us move into deeper and more meaningful levels of learning.
As Dr. Amy Fast has said, “..the saddest and most ironic practice in schools is how hard we try to measure how students are doing and how rarely we ever ask them.”
Let’s listen. Let’s build alongside educators and students. We cannot expect people to feel ownership and engagement in something that they were not a part of building. Imagine what we can do if we build together.
We can start small. We can start with what we have. We just need to make a move. Any small move and then keep moving.
As Peter Block has said, “How do you change the world? One room at a time. Which room? The one you’re in.”
How might you make a small move to elevate student voices and involve students in designing an aspect of school or learning?