Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is Student Voice Truly Heard in Schools?

Take a moment and ask yourself: Is student voice truly heard in schools?

Many educators claim that they promote student voice into numerous activities at their schools, yet are they "hearing" what the students want?  Throughout many school systems, students have had some voice in teacher assigned projects, infused ideas into student council, lead athletic/academic teams, and so much more. Yet, have we ever embraced the power of their voice in allowing them to tell us what they want to learn?  In the educational community, we constantly hear the terms: school reform, best practices, and model schools. Still, are the ideas from adults truly the way to reach the "whole child" of today? 

When was the last time someone actually asked the students what they wanted to learn, regardless of their age? When was the last time a schedule was designed by a student, instead of a guidance counselors or school administrators? Also, does every student that has an opportunity to select preferred electives, get their top one or two picks? 

Traditional schedules still include bell times, study halls, advisory periods, innovation periods, and other educator driven instruction times. Yes, we tell the students what to learn, when to learn, and how to learn.

We often discuss the need to engage at-risk students, nonetheless, we continue to repeat what we have always done. We offer extra help before or after school, including the weekends, and somehow, we neglect to realize that it doesn't work. Instead, it's "they refuse to get extra help, refuse to do homework, and don't put much effort into their studies." Why, as educators, do we continue to allow this system of failure? 

How can one focus on their studies when they are possibly taking care of a sibling or working a job to help with the bills? Perhaps, homework can not be completed because their parents don't even know how to help them on subjects that they never had? In reality, our world continues to change, yet schools don’t.  

Curriculum, standards, data collection and administrator pushed programs come first, then relationships. How can relationships between students and educators blossom, when systems remain the same. Where is the empathy that so many educators stress?

Now, shift gears and think about a “game changer” for educators - EdCamp.

For many, EdCamp, has been monumental in bringing new life back to “beaten down” educators who work in similar settings listed above. They are usually held on a Saturday, they are free, provide incredible discussions, and empower others to try something new after they leave. They are so powerful, that most educators share with others, and bring more educators back with them to the next EdCamp.  It’s a place where, Chief Yea But Officers (CYBO’s), do not exist, as everything and anything is possible to learn. The voices of the learners are heard!

I challenge you to make time and create a daily EdCamp period.  

Create a daily EdCamp period that allows students to select what they want to learn and how they want to learn. Students design the board, and students lead the class. Teachers are off to the side as facilitators, and learn with students throughout the period. Allow the voices of the learners to be heard!

Tips successfully implement an EdCamp period

Mindset change:

*Revamp your traditional scheduling-study hall, advisory periods, once a week innovation periods. Make it happen EVERYDAY.  
*Ask yourself- What is the experience you are trying to create at your school?
*Explain the concepts of EdCamp, and let the students make it their own.
*It’s ok to let students tell you what they want to learn.
*It's ok that if you don't have all the answers during the period.
*It's ok to embrace Andragogy, which is, students taking control of their learning. 
*Remember to check your ego at the door. 
*Innovation isn't just about technology. 
*Everything does NOT have to be graded.
*Trust and respect your students.
*Trust and respect your teachers. 
*Promote and support staff and student ideas. 
*Culture and climate are EVERYTHING!

Reasons why:

*When is the last time you witnessed students rushing to sign up for a class?
*Students control their learning. Teachers are facilitators, who learn alongside students. 
*Student and teacher relationships bloom from transparency.
*Ungraded periods spark creativity -Students demonstrate higher level thinking skills, and less anxiety, when they know they can't fail because they didn’t follow a rubric. 
*It focuses on ALL students. Regardless of being advanced or at-risk, ALL students are present. 
*Autonomy- Teachers develop new sense of lessons: PBL, Genius Hour Projects, 20% time, Maker, etc… to use in other courses. 
*Your school will change for the better.  

Short video of our EdCamp Period:

Blog posts about our EdCamp period: 

Disrupting Traditional Courses with an EdCamp Model to be Life Ready

An EdCamp Period: Why Can't This Happen At Your School?