This past January, Rachel Belin and representatives of the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team came to educate my students on student voice. In one of the activities that they did with my class, my students were all lined up in the front of the room. Rachel explained she would ask them a “yes” or “no” question and then they would go to which side of the line they felt they belonged on for that issue.
The first question she asked was, “Do you feel like you have a voice in your classroom and in your school?” Of course, all of their eyes went to me at the back of the room, because after all, they are teacher-pleasers and didn’t want to offend me. I smiled and said, “Guys, just be honest.” And with that they all raced to the “no” side of the line. Now that was a hard pill for me to swallow as their teacher. Rachel went on to dig into what issues they would have liked to have had input on in our class. Their ideas and opinions astounded me and left me wondering why had I never thought to consult them on their opinion before. That cold January day was a pivotal moment in my teaching career because on that day, not only did my students find their voice, but as their teacher, I also learned the importance of listening to them.
Student voice was something a little bit out of my comfort zone. To be completely honest with you, before this past year I was the preacher in the pulpit and my students were my congregation; in my heart I knew that had to be changed and that the roles had to be flipped in order for me to be a more effective teacher.
Mrs. Belin and her Student Voice Team members moved on past this activity and educated the students about appropriate ways they should get their voice heard; they stressed the importance of being persistent and being professional. My students took this advice and ran with it. They created their own student voice team. They were on a mission to create positive change and I was committed to be their partner and biggest cheerleader.
My students took this passion and spread it to others. They knew that ALL students needed to tap into their voice. In order to do that, they educated our staff members in a faculty meeting about student voice and explained simple ways to allow for student voice to happen in all classrooms. They went to the PTSA and asked to be their partners. They even took on tasks to create change. One such way was by helping out with Teacher Appreciation Week by creating posters with positive adjectives all over it to describe each teacher in the elementary. They also told the PTSA that students would like to give feedback on what types of prizes they’d like to work for in the school’s Accelerated Reader program. The Student Voice Team collected feedback from the students K-6 and then reported their data back to the PTSA; this feedback will result in what prizes are offered this year. The PTSA requested their help with projects in the upcoming school year as well.
After these student leaders presented about student voice to our Beechwood Independent’s Board of Education, our superintendent looked at me, smiled and said, “Well now, I am going to start an elementary superintendent student advisory council.” Dr. Stacy is holding true to that promise by extending his already existent superintendent student advisory council to the elementary level this fall. They had accomplished what they wanted to do: they had created positive change in our school’s culture and they were seen as partners.
If Mrs. Belin were to have visited my classroom again at the end of the school year and asked that same question, I’d like to think that my students would all be on the “yes” side of the line when asked if they had a voice in our classroom and in our school. They were empowered. There had been a fire lit in their hearts for student voice. One of my students Maya had shared, “If teachers and students work together as partners, together we can create something awesome.” That was exactly what we were able to accomplish. Through their student voice campaign they were able to educate others on the importance of listening to students. They had earned the respect of administrators, parents, teachers and encouraged other students to share their voice too.
As I reflect on our journey of student voice, I am now a proud member of the congregation as I proudly watch my students take on the pulpit together as they preach the good word about student voice. Fellow teachers, can I get a hallelujah?
Amanda Klare is a a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow and a teacher at Beechwood Elementary School. Klare created and maintains the Northern Kentucky Tribune‘s “Voices From The Classroom” feature, which highlights local teachers and their work to improve outcomes for students. Klare is a recipient of the prestigious 2019 Teacher Achievement Award and was a semifinalist for the 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year award.