This report is rooted in a simple idea: In order for schools to be successful, they must listen to, learn from, and lead with the students and teachers who comprise the very life of the school itself. Whether schools choose to accept our view that the goal of schools should be to support each and every student’s aspirations, or not; whether schools believe as we do that the Self-Worth, Engagement, and sense of Purpose of every student and teacher is critical to their academic and professional success in school, or not; whether schools think ensuring each student’s sense of Belonging, Fun & Excitement, and Confidence to Take Action are part of the job of teaching, or not; we urge schools to consider the voice of students and teachers in all projects and programs moving forward.
If for no other reason than that, among the findings below, we know students who believe they have a voice in school are 7x more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not believe they have a voice. Student voice also leads to an increased likelihood that students will experience Self-Worth, Engagement, and Purpose in school. Similarly, teachers who say they have a voice in their schools are twice as likely to work hard to reach their goals and 4x more likely to be excited about their future career in education than those who do not believe they have a voice. If that is not cause enough, we are not sure what is.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, Quaglia School Voice Student Surveys were taken by 48,185 students in grades 6-12 and 12,157 students in grades 3-5. These school level surveys were administered in 249 schools in 14 states: Arizona, California, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wyoming. iKnow My Class classroom level surveys were used by 120 teachers and given to 6,853 students in grades 6-12 in a total of 319 classes. In addition, a combined research team from the Quaglia Institute and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) conducted a qualitative mixed methods study in order to investigate the concept of student voice in young learners from age 3 to grade 2. Seven schools in six different states were involved in the study, which included 170 students, 40 teachers, and seven administrators. Eight-five parents responded to survey questions related to student voice as part of the study.
The Quaglia School Voice Teacher Survey was also administered in 13 states, all those in which the student survey was given except Arizona. There were 4,021 respondents, representing a variety of teaching experience, educational attainment, and grade levels taught.
The encouraging news is that teachers and students alike are confident in their own abilities and willing to learn and work toward their goals. Ninety-six percent (96%) of teachers and 88% of students affirm: “I believe I can be successful.” Most know that the pathway to success is through their own efforts, as 96% of teachers and 80% of students believe they work hard to reach their goals. There is also a clear desire to learn.
- Nearly all teachers (99%) and nearly two-thirds students (65%) believe learning can be fun.
- Ninety-eight percent (98%) of teacher and 78% of students enjoy learning new things, as do 98% of parents.
- 85% of students report that getting good grades is important to them.
On the iKnow survey 86% of students say they come to class ready and willing to learn.
A summary assessment of the more positive survey results is that teachers and students alike are self-assured and eager to grow and learn.
But the surveys also indicate a disconnect between that positive, inner energy reaching out in curiosity to learn and the conditions in the school environment that teachers and students encounter on a daily basis. Only 2 in 5 students (38%) report that their classes help them understand what is happening in their everyday lives. Teacher relevance is only slightly better with 57% of teachers agreeing that meaningful professional development exists in their district. Only half (49%) of all students enjoy being at school and even 1 in 5 (19%) teachers did not affirm that they enjoy working at school. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of students agree that “School inspires me to learn.” Perhaps most discouraging of all is that only 64% of teachers agreed that their school was a dynamic and creative learning environment. A full one third of those whose job it is to teach our children, must exit (if not enter) school every day with a profound sense of disillusionment, as do those they are asked to teach. It is as if hungry people, excited to have an amazing four-star, fusion meal go to a restaurant that serves only traditional meat and potatoes fare. One can survive on such food, but it’s difficult to thrive.
The findings, however, also indicate that what school becomes for many students is not how it starts out for the youngest learners. The Age 3 to Grade 2 study found children excited to go to school and having healthy learning experiences while there. The grades 3-5 survey paints a fairly upbeat experience of school from the student point of view. Parsing the grades 6-12 survey shows that those in the middle school grades (6-8) are generally more positive about school than their high school counterparts. Some may be inclined to put this down to developmental phenomena. We know from experience and from schools that reverse downward trends in their survey results that this is not the case. There is nothing inherent in growing older that makes learning less relevant or the need to be inspired less important. Students are the potential, not the problem in our educational systems. Nor does the developmental explanation account for the apparent malaise of the adults in school. It would appear from the results in this report that the way we do school itself, not the students or the teachers or other adults in the system, but the system itself, is the culprit.
We can do better. We must do better. And together we will do better.
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