Project VOYCE Site Coordinator Destiny Carney argues that students need to have a seat at the table when school leaders and policy-makers make decisions.
In August, the University of Colorado – Boulder sponsored this year’s International Democratic Education Conference also known as IDEC. People gathered together from all over the world to learn, share, connect, and create strategies to help change education for the better. Something that caught my attention about this conference, given that it was intended to help create change in schools, was that very few actual K-12 students attended.
The lack of students participating in conferences like these poses the question, how can we expect to change schools and make them better when the very people we are trying to help — the students — aren’t around to provide their opinions? As one of the few students who participated in IDEC, I feel as if people are making things way harder than they need to be. If we are trying to fix education, then why spend time throwing around questions and assumptions rather than finding answers directly from the source, students.
Through my work at Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education) I have witnessed situations where student voice has led to outstanding changes in schools.
For example, when students at Denver Center for 21st Century Learning (DC21) felt like their voices weren’t being heard by their teachers and administration, they put together an assembly to promote respectful communication between youth and adults.
The concept? “A Love Sandwich.”
The love sandwich is a type of feedback that is given in the form of a sandwich; the top bun is something the person did well, followed by the meat- something that the person can improve on, and then finished with the bottom bun- another thing the person did well. By promoting the “Love Sandwich” method of offering respectful feedback, the students created a tool for the teachers and students to improve, and did it in a way that students felt heard and appreciated.
The takeaway is that our students know what is and isn’t working in schools before anyone else. We should utilize them in meaningful ways because they are our most reliable resource. By doing so, not only do our students feel valued, but we have created a way for teachers to work with them, instead of for them. Students need to be at the table where decisions are being made, and their voices need to be valued just as much as the leaders and educators in their school. Students need to feel actively engaged in their learning so they are ready to participate in the democracy for which we should be preparing them.
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