Within our educational system today, and at the heart of all that we do, rests the proverbial “student desk”. In that seat rests the most powerful, engaging, and often untapped school resource. By taking and making time to include student perspective and voice within the academic, social, and behavioral facets of the school day, you will witness increased student engagement, increased student buy-in, and decreased behavior concerns and issues.

 

Building relationships with your student it a non-negotiable foundation to create authentic student voice opportunities. Based out of Washington, D.C. Character.Org (www.character.org ) is a national organization that promotes, supports and fosters the Character Education Initiative. Their 11 Principles, resources, and local/state agencies can provide additional support in moving forward in fostering teacher-student relationships via the character education initiative. By establishing a positive school climate and fostering positive relationships with our students, we will see an increase in how our students react, respond, and refer to school activities.

So how do you begin? Why should you empower student voice? Well, we know that our students arrive to school each day with two questions. 1. Will I be accepted? 2. Can I do the work? In addressing these two important questions, we can help our students feel both welcome and accepted at school. We can also help them become better connected with their academic work.

 

How can you empower students by increasing student voice? Here are a few ways that we have been able to begin this process:

 

  •         Principal Sound-Off: Each quarter provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas with your Administrative leadership team. Counselors and administrators meet with the student these topics. Many times our students will be able to help problem-solve different areas of concern within the school community. They are also able to generate “new ideas” and initiatives to incorporate into daily activities. Provide feedback to students explaining which suggestions can be implemented. Also, provide information to explain why specific practices and procedures need to remain in place. By giving the students this important feedback, you are honoring their voice (even when you cannot implement some of their suggestions and ideas).
  •         Student-Led Organizations: Allow students to take the lead in facilitating, planning, and leading out your student organizations (e.g. Honor Society, Student Council, W.E.B./Leader Link). This provides them with authentic leadership responsibilities and opportunities. Our three key student leader organizations each have a specific focus (National Junior Honor Society: service to others, Character Council: promoting student voice and character education, and W.E.B.: student mentoring).
  •         Student-Led Committees: Serving as facilitators, school administrators, teachers, and counselors can work alongside students with these committees. For example, two years ago we transformed how we approached our annual Veterans Day Celebration. Allowing students to share their voice and vision for this annual event, we were able to give this celebration a very personal and authentic voice. Moving the celebration to a school day assembly, adding a breakfast and including student speakers, our school community witnessed a revitalized celebration. Three years ago two student leaders approached our Administrative team with this vision in mind.
  •         Classroom Leadership: Using the Leader in Me( www.theleaderinme.org ) initiative or other research-based practices will provide students with real opportunities to lead out class activities, responsibilities, and lessons. Making time to offer different types and kinds of leadership roles in the classroom helps to provide students with authentic responsibilities (outside of academic work). At the same time you will be building confidence and self-esteem for your students.
  •         BYOD School: In becoming a Bring Your Own Device school demonstrates your desire to further engage students on a level that they are accustomed to performing. Please note that technology for technology sake is not the reason to introduce BYOD to your school. Instead, BYOD can be used to enhance and further embed learning practices with your students.
  •         Content Curriculum: Student voice and choice is another key to increasing student “connectedness” in the classroom setting. Start by offering occasions where they have a choice within assignments. At times, you can offer different Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. 

With all ideas, initiatives, and programs, it is important to begin slowly. Assess your current reality and then begin with a Backwards Design (based on your school’s Vision and Mission). From here empower teacher and student voice in designing, planning, and then implementing your student voice initiative.

 

Additional resources:

National Junior Honor Society: https://www.njhs.us

W.E.B. (Where Everyone Belongs) Leaders: http://www.boomerangproject.com

Student Council: https://www.nasc.us

 


Dr. Ted Huff is a connected lead learner and the Principal of Francis Howell Middle School in St. Charles, Missouri.

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