Quick! Name a goal of classrooms all across the United States? Ding, ding! To create a classroom of innovation. Teachers and administration alike are pouring over the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and attending conferences en masse to find this holy grail of transformation. And while there are innumerable treasures to be found in each resource, a single underpinning to innovation is simply encouraging student voice.
Think about it: when students feel safe to express their ideas and supported to take risks with their learning, we are able to transform the classroom from a place of instruction to a community of exchange, intrigue and interaction.
Interested? The key to nurturing a culture of voice is establishing an environment of trust and respect. Here are some important considerations to ponder and integrate into your classroom.
Angela Maiers’ 2011 Tedx Talk “You Matter” tells us that two words — YOU MATTER — “can change lives and can change the world.” She advocates for recognizing each person as significant contributors to society; that each person deserves to be heard, seen, and cared for. With this, Maiers dares us to frame our interactions with our students by saying: “YOU are a genius and the world needs your contribution. What will you share with us today?”
As an English teacher, I took this simple idea and presented it to my students. #BEEageniUS became our galvanizing concept, we explored different ways to share their genius with the world. I created Padlet boards, Google Slides and Today’s Meet chats with conversation starters, including:
- What’s your theme song? Pull a lyric or two that best describes you.
- What cartoon character is most like you?
- Name one skill that you are proud of. Create a #hashtag to explain its significance.
- Name one challenge that you are setting your sights on this year. Create a #hashtag to explain its significance.
The collaborative nature of our connected classroom allowed students to watch as each classmate added their post. Seeing all of the colors, fonts, and answers helped weave a tapestry of contributions. My students began to see their peers through different lenses: they began forming new appreciations for their gifts instead of focusing on right and wrong answers. To further encourage relationships, we all (myself included) commented on posts, drawing on similarities and providing kudos. To extend the learning beyond the classroom walls, we turned to our blogs and the students saw the power of their words — their beliefs — impact others and found significance as they shared their personalities and perspectives with a global audience.
We’re all GIFTED, some just open their packages DIFFERENTLY.
One of the important features of these activities is that it is exclusive of “academic content.” So often, we limit the interactions of our students by restricting conversations to “school.” This puts their contributions into a box: they’re either good at math or not; it’s a right answer or not. If we learn more about their inspirations, influences and ideas, we’re better able to appreciate their gifts. This is paramount to creating a culture of community. Students need to know (and believe) that you’re not going to silence them every time they make a comment or ask a question. How you respond (especially in the first weeks of school) sets the stage for the entire year. If you continually tell them they are wrong, they will begin to “not:” not try, not care, not learn. If you continually tell them to be quiet or ask fewer questions, they hear: your voice doesn’t matter.
So how do we tell them they matter? How do we innovate? We encourage that which has always been done, to be approached differently. We look for the unheard voice to rise above the crowd of contentment. We turn to the young people we serve daily and ask them to lead us and share their voices with us.