One of the key tenets of Student Voice work is believing–really believing–that students have something to teach us. Russ Quaglia says this in virtually every keynote, book, article, blog, or interview he has ever provided. If it’s not his most frequent tweet, it’s right up there with various challenges to support students’ aspirations. If you are among the unconvinced, then you are probably not going to have much time or tolerance for Student Voice. I had a middle school teacher once say to me: “Mickey, I just don’t get Student Voice. I have been an educator for over thirty years. I keep up with reading in the field. I regularly attend workshops and PD. I just don’t know at this point what a twelve year old has to teach me.” She and I had to agree to disagree agreeably.
In Aspire High: Imagining Tomorrow’s School Today (Corwin 2016), Russ again makes the point that “young people have something to teach us” (p. 10) and then, for the unconvinced and convinced alike, we delineate and expand on four things students can teach us:
- Students can teach us about their future hopes.
- Students can teach us how they learn best.
- Students can teach us about the conditions that support their learning.
- Students can teach us about their interests and areas of expertise as well as the personal experiences of race or otherness that shape their worldview.
Add to that the fact that students can learn by teaching and you have all the makings of a chapter titled “Students as Teachers.” When we believe students have something to teach us we open our minds to new worlds of growth and learning as educators.
I realized this week that there is Another Thing to be learned from being open to Student Voice: Students have something to teach me about myself.
You may have guessed from the gaps in this blog that the pace of school that I frequently write about remains relentless. I found in February that the unabated pace combined in a paradoxical way with winter doldrums. The temptation to settle for stale strategies I spent fifteen years speaking out against was palpable and–true confession–one I gave into once or twice. But there are students–not all to be sure, but enough–that I want to live up to. Students whose attention and effort and commitment to their own education makes me want to be a better teacher. Students (and really that means all of them) that are worthy of the best from me every day, not just when I am feeling “on” or unharried by meetings, committees, and the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of an urban, college-prep secondary school.
A week or so ago I noted one such student leaving a not-my-best-effort-class trailing an air of disengagement. It was nothing he mumbled. Nothing he conveyed in verbal or facial expression–at least not overtly. And it was then that the lesson hit home. It was then that that student taught me something about myself: That I aspire to be at my best for his sake everyday. And while admittedly not every student invites this lesson in me, it is enough for every student that one does.