Empowering students to become active participants in their education

One of the pillars of student centered learning is encouraging students to “own” their learning goals, meaning that they become active participants in their education and engaged in making their own success happen.

Pittsfield superintendent John Freeman says that when educators value student voices in school matters, students emerge “ready to be adults in every sense of the word.” And they learn important leadership skills. Encouraging student voice also mends the divide between educators and students, writes Edutopia in a blog post:

When we see students’ concerns and anger from the lens of “us vs. them,” we are in danger of seeing the symptoms of disempowerment as the issue. What do disempowerment of students and the suppression of voice look like from that adversarial lens? It looks like uncaring behavior, laziness, and lack of gratitude. It looks like whining and entitlement. It looks like a distorted sense of values, so that when asked what they would want for themselves and school, they are more likely to discuss the rules about dances and not whether they have enough textbooks.

So, how can schools encourage students to speak up for themselves, and how can educators and administrators use that feedback to improve the school culture? Edutopia outlines five ways:

#1. Document What Students Are Saying: The first step is to create time and space to listen to the students. Make sure the students have time to think about what they want to say and that you give the students multiple platforms to express their opinions, from anonymous written feedback, to small discussion groups, to larger forums. Document their issues, and with the students’ participation. Compile them into a few clear categories and umbrella issues.

#2. Dig Deeper Into the Superficial Complaints: At times, the superficial concerns, such as dress codes and physical contact at dances, might seem like an inappropriate and superficial concern, but many of those issues are connected to students feeling like they have no control over their own bodies, let alone the key components of their education. Be willing to dig deeper with your students, and don’t be afraid to provide your own insights on what you think the students are addressing beneath the surface.

#3. Create an Actionable Process: Once you have listened, students should be given a process to implement changes — and they should know the process that the teachers and administrators will take in considering the request. They should also be clear from the beginning as to what type of requests are off limits and have a clear understanding of why they are restricted (as they might be against the school’s mission, or have legal or liability constraints).

#4. Share Your Issues: A crucial part of a student’s education is understanding how schools work (or don’t work) and why. You might think your business as an adult is no concern of students and should be kept off their plate, but those same concerns are impacting students whether they are aware of it or not. Educate your students about the issues you as a teacher or administrator and the school might be facing, keeping mind their developmental stage and prior knowledge of the issues.

#5. Become Allies With Students: This is the key point. Student voice is the most empowering voice to be heard about issues that face them. For example, I believe what makes Malala Yousafzai and her words so powerful is that she is the embodiment of what she fighting for — the education of girls and the right to education in general.

Read the full article here.