I was lucky enough to get to attend the School District 42 student forum for grades ten through twelve students this past week. Conversations focused on motivation, belonging, and life after grad. These three topics were chosen through school visits that got students thinking about the most important parts of school and concerns or questions they had in these areas. Interestingly, were I to have chosen topics to chat about with a group of 160 secondary students from across the district, I think that my list would have looked remarkably similar.
The core of the day for me was a set of table conversations that I got to facilitate around the three focus areas for students from a cross section of the secondary schools in my district. Though a lot was shared, a few themes stood out to me.
In terms of motivation and belonging, students talked about the importance of relationships with the adults in schools as the huge key in this area. Is this a surprise? No. Is it an important reminder? Absolutely. Students talked about having real conversations with adults, about school employees taking the time to notice when they were having a bad day, about adults being willing to be vulnerable and acknowledge when they were struggling, about conversations about what was going on in the broader world, not just the confines of the subject area they were involved in in their classrooms.
The other area students at my table stressed was around relevancy. Whether it was the material of a subject or dealing with life after grad, students emphasized that seeing the relevance in the material in front of them made classes easier and more enjoyable. Thinking back on this conversation now, I wish I had gotten to ask about the connection between choice and relevance: does some autonomy over content increase relevancy? Or is relevancy something that is only tied directly to your life at that moment? Something to marinate on for sure.
Around the room throughout the day on flipchart paper were six questions that students could wander around and answer. The photo on the right about are students voices being heard really stuck with me, particularly the answer in the upper lefthand corner of the paper. There is a difference between listening to students and translating that listening into action. I’m looking forward to seeing the synthesis of all twenty table conversations from the day, to seeing the video stories that students shared, to see what the larger themes that came out of the event. More importantly though, I’m excited to see what changes are made after listening to our students.