Over the past six months, I’ve asked the following question to numerous teachers, administrators, and librarians in Texas, Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, and Florida: “How many of you are having ongoing conversations with students about school – a genuine conversations about learning, leading, and teaching?” The results have all been the same: few, if any, claimed to be engaging with their students.
This breaks my heart because they are a critical mass for organizational change and tapping their tremendous insights is imperative to their engagement.
It is also counter to the many discussions that have students at the center. In fact, many ideas flow from good intentioned adults about what our students want, who they are, and what they need without their voice represented. We make sweeping generalizations and we coin phrases about them.
Sadly, however, we don’t engage them in the very conversations in which we are putting them at center stage. Why when they offer so much:
- Students can inform us of bias, of misconceptions, of exaggerations, of local realities, and of blind spots that inform our directions.
- Students help us to see where our policies and practices are not aligned with our beliefs.
- Students bring another dimension of innovation to the discussion as a critical stakeholder in the community.
- Students represent the largest population of an organization and are vital for organizational change
Their voices are key; they are an essential stakeholder that we can no longer afford to have adults as the sole speaker on their behalf. Students deserve their own voice especially if we are going to continue saying it is about them.
In fact, here is my hard-line: stop saying it is about the students if you haven’t asked the students what they need, what they want, and what is the reality of their world. Just say it is about you or the school and what you find relevant. If you are okay with that, great.
Personally, I’m not.
The voices of change rest with the scholars in your building, every student that enters those doors each morning. Are you listening? Are you bringing them to the table and leveraging their insights? If you want real, lasting change, the answers can only be yes.
And, when you bring them to the table, are you vested in their thoughts? Are we willing to challenge our own beliefs about learning and teaching based upon their beliefs? Will we leverage their ideas to shape a better present and future?
The time is now to tap into the potential of students as leaders, as change agents, and as powerful voices with amazing ideas and unmatched enthusiasm.