As we are all aware, the current “educational conversation” is intensely focused on issues of school reform, with a variety of opinions voiced by almost everyone with a platform. Following these discussion on the web, through Twitter and in the news, I can’t help but think that a significant voice has, largely, been absent–that of our students. Does it not make sense that those who stand to be most significantly impacted by changes to educational delivery should have a say in the reform process?
So how do we engage students in the school reform process? As educators, I believe we have an obligation to lend an ear to our students–giving them the opportunity to voice concerns and suggestions related to their education. This can be done at a classroom, school and/or district level. For example, our junior high school recently established a student advisory committee in order to directly involve the student population in school improvement efforts. At our first meeting, student representatives utilized a facilitative leadership model to discuss the following questions:
- Ideally, what would our school “look” like?
- What problems/concerns keep us from becoming our “ideal” school?
- How can we begin to address the identified problems/concerns?
As we worked our way through this process, I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and candor with which students shared ideas. As would be expected from junior high schoolers, there were some unorthodox suggestions and I found myself reminding the kids to focus on concerns that were within our ability to effect change, but the process only served to enhance my commitment to providing students with the opportunity to be a part of the school improvement process. I know this is nothing unique–many, many, schools utilize similar student groups–but I believe this type of practice could serve as a model for giving students the opportunity to impact the school reform process.
We also need to be sure we lend our voice to students during the national debate on school reform. We can do this by sharing their ideas through news outlets, school web sites, blogs and social media outlets. Better yet, we can help students utilize available resources to share their own opinions, as well as exceptional work related to effective instruction. We all know the importance of engaging students in the classroom, encouraging higher-level thinking and problem solving, and making learning relevant. What better way to put all of this into practice than to involve our students in the process of educational reform?
It may be time to help our students speak up about what they would like to see in our schools–there voices may carry further than ours. After all, no one has a greater stake in the outcome.
Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.
~ Will Rogers