The one doing the talking is the one doing the thinking. We want to see thinking classrooms where students take ownership, take risks, challenge one another, and create their own projects. Our goal is to see students experiencing this kind of agency in all schools and classrooms. However, we continue to find teachers need help reaching these goals and that we must first support them in ensuring we hear the sound of students’ voices, especially in our middle and high schools.
School leaders who aim to develop student voice, often need to first address some or all of these legitimate teacher concerns:
- Fear of potential behavior disruptions
- Fear of not staying on pace
- Limited strategies for sharing responsibility
- Limited understandings of how learners learn
In addition, teachers may be struggling with
- Decreased self-efficacy
- Inaccurate perception of their own impact
- Inaccurate perception of what causes student success
Teachers need professional learning and thought partners to help them process potential fears and build the skills, knowledge, and efficacy to break the silence that will allow students to intellectually take risks and speak, question, challenge, explain, reason, and solve–every day.
To that end we offer school leaders this tried and true guidance . . .
Based on strategies in our book Learner-Focused Feedback, we recommend three actions school leaders can take to address these concerns and increase student voice:
Action 1: Lead with the why – why aim for student voice?
Focus on developing a common understanding of why we seek student voice based on:
- How students learn (our Strategy 4) and
- How teachers create outcomes/impact engagement and learning (our Strategy 5)
Action 2: Teach teachers how to make space and time for student voice
- Create professional learning pathways for teachers based on varied entry points. For some, a first step will include wait time, a timer, and integrating think-pair-share versus jumping right to Jigsaw or Socratic Circle.
- Provide permission and professional learning for direct instruction of SEL core competencies (e.g., how to listen)
- Build an understanding of gradual release of responsibility/inquiry models, starting with the first 15 minutes of instruction, building in student talk to activate prior knowledge, make connections, and/or reflect.
Action 3: Support implementation through formative feedback that feeds forward
- Meet teachers where they are. Align observation and feedback to responsive professional learning.
- Collect and analyze evidence of impact and unpack cause and effect relationships related to the frequency and quality of discourse in classrooms (our Strategy 18).
Teachers need professional learning and thought partners to help them process potential fears and build the skills, knowledge, and efficacy to break the silence that will allow students to intellectually take risks and speak, question, challenge, explain, reason, and solve–every day. School leaders who can support teachers in this endeavor will see thinking classrooms where student voice and agency is thriving.