Students Have a Lot to Say….You Just Have to Ask Them

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On April 12, 2018 we got to be a part of a unique and innovative experience. Four districts (Ashland, Holliston, Mendon-Upton, and Millbury) all participated in a cross-district collaborative project. We used Zoom as our platform and had an online chat with over 40 students on the topic of student voice. Maureen Cohen and I facilitated the overall discussion while the principals helped to recruit students and lead the discussions in the breakout rooms.

The idea came about during the Inspired Learning Project. During this zooms session, a few of us began talking about how cool it would be to hold a faculty meeting using Zoom. From there, we discussed the potential of a multi-district faculty meeting. Then someone suggested that it would be even more powerful if we could have a multi-district online meeting with students, faculty, and administrators.  As a result, we settled on having students meet online from 4 different districts to discuss a topic we all cared about: student voice.

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From there the idea took off. We created a powerpoint to use during our Zoom session and each district recruited students. We met a few times online to work out any kinks and to make sure the technology worked. We decided to do a brief overview of what student voice means and what it looks like so that students would be able to have some common language and understanding. Then we had students split up into breakout rooms to discuss the following questions.

Breakout #1

  • What is student voice?  
  • What does it look like in your classrooms and in your schools?  
  • What should it look like?  
  • Do you have enough opportunities for student voice?

Breakout #2

  • How do we increase student voice in schools and classrooms?  
  • What advice would give teachers/administrators?  
  • What could you do on your own as students?

We were nervous that the students would not talk and the adults would be leading the discussion. That never happened. Once the students were in the breakout rooms, they immediately engaged with one another in sharing what they thought were effective approaches in their schools, as well as areas that would like to see increased opportunities for student voice. To hear the students sharing and collaborating across schools was awesome and inspiring. Students reflected on hurdles such as, “The teachers seem to be so focused on MCAS sometimes, that it is hard to fit in student voice.” and “Sometimes decisions are happening and we find out after the fact and don’t have an opportunity for input in the decision-making.”

At the end of the hour, we asked the students if they wanted to do this again and they overwhelmingly said yes. Then as a group, we brainstormed topics for future sessions and they tossed out over a dozen ideas. Their enthusiasm was AWESOME!

What was even more amazing were the discussions that happened after the session between the students and the principals regarding what they learned from the other schools and wanted to try in their own schools.

Kelley St. Coeur from Ashland said the students were so excited to just have the opportunity to talk. They all felt they had the opportunity to have their voices heard but wanted more opportunities and to see their teachers involved in the conversation. One student talked about the fact that he is a quiet student, but the Zoom format really helped to make him feel comfortable talking. They couldn’t stop talking to each other and were so appreciative of the opportunity.

Nicole Bottomley from Holliston found that they loved the “Courageous Conversations” that Ashland is having and are really interested in exploring the idea for HHS. They loved connecting with other students and felt empowered by the experience and the ideas.

John Clements principal of Nipmuc Regional High School, shared the excitement of students in knowing that teachers are looking for ways to help them become leaders of their own learning. He added, “After the cross-district conversation, students repeatedly told me how excited they were to know that teachers are interested in creating opportunities for them to take the lead. They can see that teachers are rethinking past practices and finding ways to promote agency and choice in the curriculum. The conversation validated the efforts of educators in each of the four schools who are reimagining their work by allowing students to pursue their passions.”

Tara Bennett from Millbury said how the opportunity for students to connect with surrounding schools is really neat and that the students hope this connection will continue to grow and be provided in the new school year.

Abraham Maslow wrote, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” For all of us involved in this project, we decided to take a step forward into growth. As educators and students we all took a risk by trying something different, using Zoom as a platform, having an unscripted meeting, and being pushed a little out of our comfort zones. The results were incredible.

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