I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and meaningful student involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection.
Recently, I facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process
. At the beginning of the process, a group of "nontraditional student leaders" showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. So, I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.
Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school's faculty focused on meaningful student involvement
in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators' minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:
- What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
- What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students' experiences today?
- Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?
During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again - although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.
Needless to say, after that the group went exactly where I wanted them to, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students' projections of what their school could become.
There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice. Here are a few: