Category Archives: student voice

“They have to be part of the solution”

As teachers go back into their classrooms preparing for the new school year, many educators spend an inordinate amount of time decorating their classroom.  The will use terms like “our classroom”, yet they will be the only ones who have had the options of what it looked like.  My first year of teaching a fourth grade class, I remember spending a ton of time making little basketballs and placing every student name on one of them outside of the classroom as a way to welcome them.  Imagine if you were a student in my class that year and you hated sports. You were probably thinking, “A year with this guy?!?!?”

I was reminded of this reading this post, “How Teachers Can See Students’ Identities As Learning Strengths“, and in particular, reading this passage about a teacher trying to better understand his own students:

For example, Sirrakos had spent a lot of time and his own money to decorate his science classroom with posters and quotes he hoped would inspire his science students. In a dialogue, one student told him that his class environment was boring. Sirrakos was confused and pointed out all the decorations on the walls meant to liven up the room. His students explained those images represented him, not them. Sirrakos was still confused, but he asked his students to help him fix the problem.

Students started bringing in their own posters, including things they made. The one rule was it had to be related to science in some way. Immediately students were more cheerful. “They have to be part of the solution,” Sirrakos said. “That’s where we talk about having these co-generative plans of action.” In this example, the solution didn’t require a big shift, it only required that Sirrakos recognize he wasn’t achieving the result he thought he was, and be open to students’ owning their classroom space.

Not only would this save you so much more time, but it is so much more meaningful to the students.  This is not simply about choosing what goes on the walls, but seeing the classroom as a reflection of themselves (the learners), not simply the teacher.

I wrote about this last year as well:

What if you wanted to learn the student’s names, you asked them to create their own art to display it on which represents something they love?

Instead of decorating the room with what you think should be on the walls, ask the students what they would like the room to look like, and plan how you could shape and decorate it, over time.

Instead of planning the entire day, why not create opportunities to talk to them and learn about them, and get a feel for what your year, or even the day could look like?

If I really think about how the year started for me as a teacher, it was more about the students to get to know me, than it was about me getting to know them.  There actually should be a balance.  Trust and respect are reciprocal feelings; they are not earned only from one direction.

These little things show students that they are an essential part of our community.  Their voice is needed to create community, ultimately showing them that they do not have to wait to make a difference; they can be leaders today, in our own classrooms.  Empowering them now, will lead them to be the world changers we hope them to be.



Who is defining “student success”?

I read this short little article on the definition of success, and I liked the thinking:

  • Success isn’t about how much money you’ve in your bank account
  • Success isn’t about how much money do you spend on a Saturday night
  • Success isn’t about how big your residence is
  • Success isn’t about wearing high-end clothes
  • Success isn’t about using an iPhone
  • Success isn’t about driving a Mercedes

Success according to me is accomplishing your goal

Be it a small goal or a big goal.

The emphasis on the word “your” is mine, not the author’s.  Why it stuck out to me was more and more in education, are we helping students define their goals, are outside sources defining what success is for them?

Think about it…how often in school is “success” deemed by how you compare to others, not how you have focused on your own goal.

In the shift from focusing on empowerment in schools, not only engagement, how truly empowered are we in being successful based on someone else’s standards?

This is a great quote on the idea of “success”:


How determined would one be to work towards someone else’s goal?  And if students aren’t in on the conversation on what “success” means to them, the reality is sometimes they could feel like a failure even though they have met the targets of someone else.

Students need to define what success truly means to them. not just us.

Tapping into “Your Most Unhappy Customers”

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

I read the above quote and it really struck a nerve.  I know student voice is extremely important in schools, and many have made strides to make this more of a reality.  Where I struggle is when we bring students together, are we bringing the voices of students that are doing well, or are we bringing the struggling student who maybe hates the entire experience?

Many times, these student voice “events” (student voice should be much more than an event) often are for the students who have completed the work and that we know will catch up on any missed “work ” in school.  Are we sending kids with divergent ideas or the ones who are sometimes the most compliant?  Obviously, it should not be one or the other, but when we bring students together to listen to their voice, we have to ensure that the voices have diversity in many aspects.


Another idea that I heard from Andrea Gillespie from Ontario (#TLDSBLearns) was the notion of “Student Exit Surveys”.  She had shared with me via Twitter that when students dropout, they are given an exit survey to gather information, and what she had said to me was the number one reason students left school was that they felt they had no connection with an adult in the building.  Imagine being in place where no one seemed to care if you were there?  I wouldn’t want to be there either.  This process should be something we do for students that dropout and graduate.  It should also be something that is done for students while they are in schools (many organizations do this) to improve the experience for students while they are in school. 

Student voice is so crucial for the change process so many  schools are going through; in fact, it is the most important aspect.  If we aren’t changing it for them, why are we doing this work?  Let’s just make sure we give all students multiple opportunities to share their thoughts while discussing and acting upon this feedback.

(Please share any ways that you tap into student voice in your school or organization in the comments. Links welcomed and appreciated!)