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Student voice for meaning, self-actualization, safety (ISTE 2017)

“Our kids can be experts in the world,” said visionary educator Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann), meaning right now, as students, in school, in digital spaces, in life. Then he asked, “How can we help them be that?” He was speaking last week at ISTE, the world’s largest ed tech conference.

ISTE 2017 logoI went to ISTE to see what educators were saying about student voice, and what I found was a trend: growing collaboration between students and educators not just to amplify student voice but to utilize it – in ways that are meaningful to both. Together, they’re using student voice to solve problems at school, use technology effectively, improve school governance, increase safety and design meaningful learning. Here are just a few inspiring examples:

Diana Bidulescu, Manager of Online Assessment in the Houston Independent School District (@HISD), said that when her district of 215,000 students speaking 100 languages in 283 schools had to cut the budget, she wasn’t sure how her office would manage. “I asked myself, ‘Throughout my career, who have been my best friends? My students’ was the answer,” she said. So she asked them for help, creating a very active, 60-member Student Advisory Team that represented that very diverse student body. She said, they shape the program, train their peers, motivate and help their teachers (as they transition to digital learning), “give us suggestions for innovation…. A fantastic idea came from a 2nd grader this year,” she added. The student team even presents to the school board every year. All the training they do is in 1-min. videos in multiple languages, produced by them. They also create memes and posters.

Jancey Clark (@jancey5), K-5 learning coach at the American International School in Riyadh (AIS-R), Saudi Arabia (to see what the school’s like, watch this video), talked about what a panel of students said when asked how school could be improved for students. “The 1st thing they asked for was time” – time to do work that was meaningful to them, Jancey said. The 2nd thing was to be allowed to “make a difference in the world, even in small ways” (for which they needed the first thing, time!). Jancey said one panel member said she was too overwhelmed by academic requirements to practice a musical instrument she’d played for years. No. 3 was to “let us pursue our passion” (are you starting to see a theme here too?). The 4th was, “everything is a remix” (I suspect the students were reacting to strict rules about copyright hampering their desire to remix media for school projects). For No. 5 the students simply said, “We are all unique,” probably with hopes for more personalized learning. Jancey summed by quoting a 5th grader saying, “If you [a student] have an idea, you should do it – just give us time and tools.” Some early changes: students presenting to parents on Parent-Teacher night and projects produced by students on “What It’s Like to Be a Kid” and “What It’s Like to Be a Kids in Saudi Arabia.” For more, check out TEDxYouth AIS-R on YouTube.

Michael Hernandez (@cinehead), teacher of broadcast journalism and film production at Mira Costa High School in southern Calif., gave a workshop on “Using Tech to Amplify Student Voice.” One key takeaway for me was that student voice goes hand in hand with meaningful learning – work that’s meaningful, as each student defines the word. What I heard him saying was that voice, self-expression, is part of self-actualization, which sometimes – not necessarily – fuels activism. Hernandez focuses on voice, and his 3 criteria for teaching that fosters it are relevance, openness, and flexibility. To see what happens, check out the links to students’ video projects about class trips to Vietnam and Cuba on this page. For more on meaningful learning, see this powerful talk by Prof. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University).

Erin Kohl (@erinkohl), principal of West High School in Oshkosh, Wisc., has a cabinet – Kohl’s Cabinet, a student advisory group made of 24 (six from each of grades 9-12 in her school of nearly 1,700 students), representing all the school’s races and ethnicities, genders, socio-economic statuses, academic performance levels, genders and ability/disability. Each year they’re chosen by “school para-professionals” – staff who know the school well and get to know the students from outside the classroom. She has just 2 rules for the Cabinet: full participation (“If you’re going to participate, put yourself out there” and join in the discussion) and honoring each other’s perspectives. “They establish the norms” that govern the discussion. “Each time we come together, we cover 1-2 topics” (they are thorough). Topics include bullying prevention programs, a 1:1 Chromebook program, weighted GPAs, dress code, student support, facilities, etc. “They’ve provided great feedback,” including asking that she let us know topics of discussion in advance so they can come prepared. They suggested that she set up a dropbox so students can put questions and ideas to the cabinet and the administration.

I opened this post with one visionary educator’s view. I’ll close it with another’s. Jennie Magiera (@msmagiera), chief innovation officer for her school district in the Chicago area, gave a compelling Tuesday morning keynote to 10,000+ attendees. Fundamentally, she was talking about how, as her mother taught her, we can help our children find, sustain and use their voices. Her mother said, “Jennie, teachers [and I think she’d agree parents too] can help you be your whole self.” Jennie also told us that technology can help with that. In fact, we need to use it to help with that – to help our children and students use it to “tell their untold stories” and “to enhance their connections to each other.” That can be done, and here’s one trick Jennie shared, quoting much-loved author Anne Lamott (@annelamott). In her TED Talk, Lamott said, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” What Jennie’s suggesting is to help our kids maintain their voices, confidence and gifts to the world by helping them see that the carefully curated, seemingly all-good, #bestlifeever snapshots they (we all) see in social media are just that: snapshots of people’s outsides, not their insides. Social technologies are for connecting human beings, not snapshots of who they are, right?

So why did I include “safety” in the headline? This is safety, as well as meaningful learning: growing student voice and agency – their capacity to teach, mentor, care for each other, help us and effect positive change now, right where they are.

Related links

  • What’s happening in schools – aligning students’ interests with schools’ mission – actually syncs up with similar efforts in U.S. society right now. Examples in media are Politico’s “audience insight community,” which aims to give readers “a seat at the table” and YouTube’s “Trusted Flaggers” program, empowering users who’ve surfaced as more invested in their YouTube interest communities in YouTube help keep them constructive or on-topic.
  • A task force report and a student bill of rights” – my post as a task force member about the Aspen Task Force on Learning & the Internet and Student Voice’s student bill of rights.
  • On resilience, an often overlooked key part of student safety online and offline, here in Net Family News and from my friends at the Cyberbullying Research Center, where Prof. Sameer Hinduja writes, “Resilience online is built in the same way as resilience offline. We must provide opportunities for youth to face social and relational problems head on, and to recognize their own strength, agency, and power to overcome them – and do so within an environment of supportive resources (so they know you and I have their back!).”
  • Learning about ‘The Class’: Researchers on their year in middle school” – about students and technology at home and at a highly diverse, north London middle school
  • More on all the conversations that went on at ISTE 2017 (“ISTE” for the International Society of Technology in Education)
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