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Live from #ASCD14: How to amplify student voice

3 min read


Self-worth. Engagement. Purpose. These are three signposts on the journey to unlocking student potential, according to Russell Quaglia, president and founder of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations.

Quaglia presented the third general session at the ASCD annual conference in Los Angeles, eliciting a standing ovation at the close of his session: Moving Forward with Our Greatest Resource: The Students or Student Aspirations: The Key to Unlocking Schools Potential.

“We are doing all sorts of cool things going around student voice, but what we haven’t mastered yet is listening,” Quaglia said. “I believe with every ounce of my being that student voice is the instrument of change, but we need to listen.”

“Forty-four percent of students in this country believe they have a voice in decision making. Why is that (number) so low? Because half of the kids in this country don’t think we’re willing to learn from them,” Quaglia said. “What can we do to let kids know that they can teach us, that we can learn from them, that we should learn from them?” That’s the journey to kids’ aspirations.”

Quaglia highlighted three steps on the journey to help schools get there.

Self-worth. Create a sense of belonging not steeped in team jackets and themed school uniforms, but in asking kids how they are doing and waiting for a response. Be a good hero. Educators are students’ heroes whether they want to be or not, so be a good one by building trust and being honest. Stress the importance of effort, perseverance and citizenship, not in annual food drives, but by supporting these attributes in everyday life. If there’s a piece of paper on the ground, pick it up. If there’s a dirty tray in the cafeteria, take it to the kitchen.

Engagement. There is a delicate balance between interest and opportunity. If kids aren’t interested, it doesn’t matter. If there is a lot of interest, but no opportunities, students will not be engaged, and a lot of schools provide endless opportunities but there’s no interest. How do you bring interest and opportunity? You make sure kids are having fun and are excited about learning. It’s about being so engaging that you lose track of time and space. Get them moving; get them thinking. Encourage curiosity and creativity. Make it cool to be successful in school. Make time to know students’ hopes and dreams.

Purpose. Purpose is about intention, commitment and about thinking beyond yourself. Don’t ask kids: What do you want to be when you get older? Ask kids: WHO do you want to be when you get older? You want to give students voice? Don’t just put them on a committee, have them chair the committee. Put them on the search committee. Let them chair the search committee.

Quaglia — throughout his session — offered a series of challenges for educators, but this one stood out among them: “Be bold. Have the confidence to take action, to stand up for something, for anything. You need to amplify the voices of people, and I’m talking young people. They are our greatest resource.”

Melissa Greenwood is SmartBrief’s senior education editor, with responsibility for the content in a variety of SmartBrief’s education briefs. She also manages content for SmartBlog on Education and related social media channels. Prior to joining SmartBrief, Melissa held a variety of positions in the education field, including classroom teacher and education editor and writer.