A Scholar's Voice

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a morning meeting with our executive council members. These scholars are members from our larger student council that have been selected to have a regular meeting with the administration. The topic of the day was "concerns in the building", and what a wonderful meeting it was. Our scholars shared some great insight, and pushed me to a thinking space. Here's what was shared.

Sometimes teachers are basically asking for us to fall asleep.

I have a fairly comfortable sized office at our school. Big enough to fit a couch, a work table for scholars, my own desk, and storage. Every morning I come in, turn on one lamp, the light for the fish tank, and swing my door open wide. The radio is then turned on to our local classical or jazz station. For me, I find comfort in the low lights, the calming music and the open door to our hallways. That environment helps me find center.

As I walk through our building there are multiple rooms that are lit by a few lamps or maybe some left-over holiday lights. Often times our English classrooms have classical music playing during silent reading time. On our sunniest days classrooms often say no to the lights and leave it to nature to brighten the space.

But... if we listen to some of our scholars on the executive council, we learn this type of environment may not always be what our students need. And I can see their point! If I put myself in our 7th-grade scholar's shoes at 7:55 am, I probably need something a bit brighter to keep me awake! So lights down low with calming music may just have to wait.

My wondering then turns to, are the lights and calming environment the only issue? Are our scholars being offered engaging curriculum that is culturally relevant? Do our scholars walk into the classroom believing the space is one that will offer new material that will impact their lives? If not, then maybe the lights and the classical music are not the real concern.

Teachers need to build relationships with scholars... First!

As an administrative team we have started each and every year with a message to our teachers, "There is no need to concern yourself with academic goals for the first two weeks of school. First and foremost we expect you to take a concerted amount of time to build relationships with your students. Additionally we hope that you find ways to create a collaborative and trusting community amongst your students." We spend time as administration doing walkthroughs of classrooms and even participating in some of the relationship building activities. Our time spent in those classrooms is followed up with praise and appreciation to our staff for taking the time to build those relationships and community.

So when I heard a scholar say that teachers need to build relationships, I had to ask, "Don't your teachers do that?" She shared that some of her teachers do, but not all. When our principal asked how much time was spent building relationships at the beginning of the year the scholar mentioned some beginning of the year activities, but that was maybe about a week's worth of time at best.

What I have learned in my time in education is that relationships must first be built at the beginning of the year, but that it is equally important to continue fostering and encouraging those relationships throughout the school year. It is necessary for teachers to find multiple ways to foster relationships throughout the school year. Building relationships can be done while working through classroom content, or by way of stand alone activities. No matter how staff want to approach the work, it is extremely important that the work happens and that it happens often!

Teachers should know when students need help academically, especially before they send kids out.

If you have worked with scholars long enough, one should be able to recognize that behaviors are a symptom and not the problem. Our scholar in the executive council meeting noted this without using those words. He recognized that students may "act out" in class because they are disengaged from work that may be too difficult. This scholar went on to say that if the teacher is aware of the scholar's capabilities then they will be able to address the academic need and may be able to avoid the behavior.

I love how succinctly the student summed up the importance of knowing a scholar's abilities. As educators, it is easy to discuss the behaviors exhibited by students. It's easy because it is what we can see and what we experience first. If a student is struggling with reading, that is something that has to be "unearthed". When the scholar then begins to chat it up with a classmate, educators may jump to an "office discipline referral" rather than investigating the root cause. It is so vital that we as educators seek to find the root cause that may lead to student behavior. There is nothing that will ruing a relationship faster than dismissing a student for behavior without understanding or addressing the root cause.

Here is where formative assessments of students become so necessary. Checking in with our scholars frequently in multiple ways allows us to know where our scholars are at academically, and then how to tailor our curriculum to meet their needs. I encourage our staff to be assessing in some way on a daily basis. These assessments must be the information used to engage and educator our scholars appropriately!

Teachers need to be consistent, and kids need to see that.

I love the honesty of our scholars. This statement was made without condemnation of teacher actions, but as a request for teachers to be consistent in what they do. The executive council is comprised of 8 scholars, and all of them agreed with the initial statement. Our scholars were able to quickly recall when their teachers were firm with a specific behavior or with a particular scholar, but that their expectations and follow-through were not always consistent. 

One of my greatest joys in life is being a dad. My wife and I are the proud parents of our 4-year-old son. He is an intelligent, out-going, and independent young boy. Stubborn might be another word we can use to describe my son. There are days when I am able to stand firm, while caring, with my expectations. On other days, especially when I'm tired or worn out, I don't follow through as much as I should. This impacts my son's ability to follow my expectations. To be clear, that is not my son's fault! If I as the adult cannot create consistency, then I cannot blame my son for the days he struggles to follow my requests. The more consistent I am, the easier it becomes for him to follow the plan. 

If this true for my 4-year-old son, then it is most definitely true for our students. Compounding the situation is when our scholars see certain expectations being enforced sometimes or for some students, while not being held for all students. Our executive council members were able to recount multiple occasions when they saw inconsistencies and then shared how they believe it impacted the classroom culture. 

Clear and concrete expectations that are consistently upheld will undoubtedly improve a classroom's culture!

The importance of student voice

"When a student tries to share their perspective, I have seen too many teachers shut that conversation down." ~ executive council member

Scholars' voice can be tricky. When do we ask for it? How do we ask for it? How much do we need? Does a scholar's voice need to impact our work? 

Based on our discussion and knowing the needs of our school, scholars' voice is vital to the success of our classroom and building culture. We need to ask for scholars' voice, a lot. We need to use multiple forms to ask for scholars' voice. The more scholars' voice we have, the better. Scholars' voice must be the driving force behind everything we do as educators! 

Scholars' voice is what should inform our decisions as a building, as a classroom, and with individual scholars. It is one major way to bolster relationships with scholars and encourage them to take ownership of their educational experience. We need to honor and respect scholars' voice! 

Scholars' voice will change the way we view and execute our educational practices. So let's make sure we're listening!


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