School already has started for me. It’s always exciting to start a new year, and, even better, I am in a new building. During my 10-year career, I have been in five buildings: two middle schools, two K-8 buildings and one high school. Even though there have been specific things that have set each building apart from another, there are two things they all have had in common: Everyone wants a voice and choice.
Everyone wants to be heard. I don’t mean only listened to, either. People want to know their opinions matter and that they have a chance to contribute to their school. Students want their school to be a reflection of them. Teachers want the same thing. They want to have a voice in their professional development and initiatives being implemented. Like students, they want to be able to speak out when they are frustrated and share when they are excited.
The fact is students and teachers will find a place to voice their thoughts, but when a school provides the place for their voice to be heard, it can change the school’s culture. There are several ways schools can do this.
- Student blogging: Linda Yollis recently wrote about the benefits of blogging with young students. Using websites such as KidBlog.org, schools can create a place for students to share their voices.
- Student websites: A student-created site using Weebly or Google is another way for students to share their voices creatively.
- Twitter: Our school recently started a Twitter account (@GLAinfo) and a hashtag (#evscGLA), allowing students and parents to tweet questions and share information.
However, you can’t forget about the introvert — the student who has a voice but doesn’t feel comfortable sharing it in a public venue. It is crucial that we develop a relationship with these students. If a child doesn’t want to blog or tweet, that’s fine with me. Such students can “blog” on a piece of paper and hand it in to me. I’ll comment with sticky notes and hand it back. What I want to do is show these students that their voices are as important as those of students who use social media.
As a former classroom teacher, I want my leadership to give me time and opportunity. A lot has been written lately on “flipping” professional development, and this is one way to give teachers time and opportunity to discuss issues, instead of “sitting and getting” during a faculty meeting. Also, I want to be able to go to my administrator’s office and talk if I need to. Outside the building I work in, I have my personal learning network, which is always there when I need to share my voice. Participating in #Edchat or #Flipclass chats gives me a place to share my ideas and thoughts. Plus, I always walk away with more than what I brought.
The other thing that everyone wants is choice. Students want to have a choice in what they learn, how they learn and how they show what they have learned. They want choice in what they do daily and the ability to make changes as circumstances change. You can’t truly provide choice if you haven’t heard their voice. If you are the one who came up with all of the choices, that’s not real choice. Let students design the next learning project. Something as simple as a choice board will give students options in how they are assessed.
Teachers want to have choice in things such as their schedule, committee assignments and professional development. I give my teachers the Coach’s Menu, from which they can select professional development. My teams also have Tech Tuesdays, during which teachers can access professional development at our office on any topic they want. We surveyed our teachers last year with Google Forms to find out what kind of full-day professional-development sessions they would want to attend. Again, as with students, we listened to their voice, which led to giving them choices.
I know that there are times when choice is not an option. However, the more choices we can provide our students and teachers, the better, especially if those choices are given as a direct result of the voice we allowed people to have. Why do you think #Edchat is so popular? It’s because we have choice in the topic, and it’s a place where our voice can be heard.
As a person who provides professional development to teachers in my building, I am working hard at giving my teachers a voice in the professional development they receive and a choice in how and when they receive it. If voice and choice are things we all want, then we should be thinking about how we can provide them to others.
Brett Clark (@Mr_Brett_Clark) is an e-learning coach in southern Indiana. His interests include the flipped classroom, creating a student-centered classroom, technology integration and professional development. He is a conference presenter and recently presented at the Flipped Conference in Chicago. Learn more about Clark at his website.