I’m so excited and honored to be able to take on the responsibility of working with an amazing group of high school students who are designing and delivering professional development in our school district. Yes, you read that right—students delivering professional development.
I believe that the student voice is one of the missing pieces in all of the discussions about educational reform.
In the spring of 2011, Graig Meyer (director of the Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate Program, or BRMA) and Bonnie Davis (educational consultant) began working with BRMA students to teach them research-based strategies for culturally proficient instruction. The BRMA students identified a set of six strategies they believe to be most helpful to students of color.
In the fall of 2011, the School Improvement Network came to film the students and teachers—whom the students identified as exemplars of these practices—for a one-hour video professional development tool. You can access those videos if you're subscribed to PD360.
Graig and I have worked with student facilitators to develop a student-driven professional development model in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools using the six strategies:
Definition of Strategies:
1. Visibility: Making every student feel acknowledged and included in the classroom.
2. Proximity: Using physical space to engage students and reduce perceived threat.
3. Connecting to student’s lives: Making linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.
4. Engaging students’ culture: Incorporating positive elements of students’ culture into classroom learning and community building.
5. Addressing race: Talking openly about racial dynamics and how they impact the student experience.
6. Connecting to the larger world: Helping students identify their future paths and using classroom experiences to guide students towards their personal goals.
We had 35 educators and 10 student facilitators work together this semester in four 1.5 hour workshops. Words can't describe how powerful it was. It's a big step to involve students in: essentially, teaching teachers. The educators (teachers, administrators, support staff) who attended weren't even fazed. Like the true professionals they are, they dove in and weren't afraid to ask their facilitators questions.
The talk around the tables was rich and challenging. Several of the students facilitators came up to me afterwards to share their excitement. One student said, "Mrs. Bunner, there was a teacher and she wasn't sure how to use one of the strategies in her classroom, so we brainstormed and I was able to help her find a solution!"
Another student shared: "I told the group about a time a teacher asked me a question which I didn't realize was rhetorical. In my culture, when an adult asks you a question, you answer. So I did. And the teacher thought I was trying to be a smart-aleck. So I went to the teacher and explained my view and apologized. A teacher in my group shared that she had a student do the same thing and she thought they were trying to be smart. She hadn't even thought about that being a cultural difference."
There is such power when we hear directly from students how what we do as teachers affects them. My goal is that in our second year of implementation, we can emulate the National Urban Alliance's Student Voices Program where students completely run the PD time for teachers. I'd be thrilled to work myself out of a job!
We are working towards this goal by recruiting more student facilitators, including some of our middle school students, and meeting together as a team over the summer to plan out seven professional development sessions for the year. I’m excited to work with the students and to see where their leadership takes us.
Where are the places in your school or district you could invite student voices to effect instructional change?