UDL inclusivity

5 school areas that desperately need student voices

Too often schools make decisions on student learning without consulting actual students. Here’s how to change this antiquated practice.

3. School Governance

Traditionally, our student involvement in school governance has been limited to cursory efforts such as Associated Student Body and somewhat token officers who have limited access to site leaders. Many districts also have a student on their governing boards, but again these are usually merely symbolic gestures.

But with the onset of real democratization in schools, at what levels could our students be involved in the school decisions that ultimately affect them? Can our students be involved on curriculum committees, reform efforts, leadership teams, budget committees, professional learning communities and more? This might seem like something unrealistic or impossible to some, but it’s not. If we value their opinion in the classroom, we can also value it out of the classroom when decisions are being crafted that affect the classroom. I believe that our students are capable, ready and desperately needed.

4. Staffing / Hiring

Schools may not have a more important task or duty than hiring their teachers. And yet again, how often do we consult the primary constituent of teachers (students)? Typically, we don’t. But as a high school principal of a new 1:1, project-based school, we did just that.

From almost day one, we include two students on every interview panel—whether that was for teachers, classified positions, coaches or other. Indeed, we went one step further. When we had competitive teacher interviews with outstanding finalists, we invited them back for a second interview that included a live teaching demo with some of our students, who in turn provided immediate feedback to the learning activities, structure, engagement and more.

As one can imagine, the students and their opinions were not only vital, but truly insightful. And what a different school culture we enjoyed when students knew that our teaching staff had been selected with student opinion, input and participation!

5. Schoolwide Needs / Problems /Challenges

I have personally experienced the success of this many times. Again, we rarely consult the primary people who ultimately experience the results of decisions we make when addressing school-wide issues, concerns, or problems. But regardless of our challenge, we should ask students for their input. Not only will they have good ideas, they can be the agents to ultimately implement any ideas.

For example, can adults solve or resolve bullying alone? No, we need student participation and leadership to ultimately address these types of challenges. I have always believed, and have had confirmed many times, that most students truly not only care about their learning, but also their learning environment. If they are trusted and respected appropriately, they can become supporters of our desires to have safe, clean, positive and nurturing learning environments.

As a journalism teacher, I always involved students not only in story ideation, but also in how to respond to public criticism, school reactions, faculty response and more. As a student leadership advisor, I had great success with challenging students to come up with creative solutions to everything from embracing diversity to special education inclusion and more. I used to challenge all of my students to create and implement School Improvement Projects as part of their semester final. They created events, programs and outreach efforts to address dozens of issues that the adults never would have had the time or capacity for in the least.

They can often do what we can’t. Let’s involve them. If we truly want change in our schools, as well as a new type of learner who embraces the skill set we expect from our future learners and workers, we better start including them in the discussion.

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