Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Power of Student Voice

Our HS principal often says…“There aren't a lot of businesses where your clients become your products.”  We have the opportunity every single day to influence the lives of people who will take care of us as we get older.  They are the group that we will lean on to move society forward, boost an economy, and invent things that will revolutionize markets.  Yet, in Fall Creek, we don’t ask them what they want, how they want to learn, and how we are doing as educators…until now.  We have asked for parent feedback, community feedback, our administrators get feedback from staff, but the voice of our clients often gets lost in the minutia of the day. The following initiatives are extremely exciting to me, as an administrator, moving forward in our school district:

The Change Conversation
At the beginning of the year we implemented a Professional Growth Model plan that asked teachers to find one area of need or interest and set a particular goal to improve or enhance that area.  One of the components to the goal was a student data piece.  Some chose to work on an academic area and some chose to work on a social area, but all chose to work…which made this administrator extremely happy!  Though I am not in the High School, I have had a number of great conversations with HS teachers regarding their plans and the student data component.  One in particular made me smile.  Our teacher was using exit slips for student comprehension as part of his goal.  When looking at the exit slips he cross referenced how the students perceived his delivery with their scores on assessments for that particular week.  The connection of student voice in how they were taught to their ability to relay information was the start of a great conversation with the teacher.  The impetus stayed away from why they didn't learn a particular skill to what he needed to do differently to ensure they learned a particular skill.  The most important variable is the teacher and the delivery…and this instructor recognized that he was the variable in the change for student achievement.

Student Evaluations of Instruction
The second component that made me feel better about integrating student voice was our HS teacher evaluations done by students.  A few things about this process made me smile…first and foremost; the vast majority of teachers in our building completely embraced the idea.  Although they may have been a bit nervous, they were all eager to see the data from their classes.  As with any data points, the numbers don’t mean anything unless you sit down and reflect on what will be done with said data.  The movement from knowledge to action is clearly key to the process.  Our HS principal had a chance to sit down with staff members, and guide the discussion to look at what things were going well…and why.  The conversation was about the positive aspects of what is going on in the classroom, and when the data wasn't as promising, we tried to break the conversation into pieces to coach a solution to make the teacher feel valued in the process.  Clearly teachers were harder on themselves with the data than administrators could be…we all want to do well and addressing a particular need was discussed after some of the positive things were brought to light.  We all have strengths, and we all have areas to improve, the minute we start feeling like we've arrived, we begin losing ground.

Meetings with Students
The final component that is just in the beginning stages of implementation is holding exit meetings with our seniors.  Last week I had the pleasure to sit down and have lunch with 12 seniors.  We discussed their lives at Fall Creek, what they loved about school, what they didn't love about school, what they would have changed, how they would teach, what they wanted to learn, how it prepared them for life after high school, social media, independent learning….all in 30 minutes…it was awesome!  For our students to sit down with a 38 year old, bald headed crazy man as opposed to having the time with their friends was a tribute to them and the conversation was wonderful.  It made me think… “why aren't we doing this all the time?”  So…we will! 
Students need to have a voice in their education.  We cannot be the sole purveyors of knowledge.  Content is simply not scarce…it can be attained anywhere…and when any question can be answered by asking it into a phone, we need to get beyond content.  Our students should have a say in what and how they learn…I truly appreciate the work at the HS to begin a process where that is routine and not a burden on what we do.  Our clients are our products…let’s make sure they are marketable when they leave…instead of preparing people to work in a new world, let’s prepare them to lead it.

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