Think about the last school leadership team meeting that took place in your school building. This can be any kind of a meeting where the voices of leaders from your building/district were present, representing key stakeholders. Who did you see sitting around the table? You may have seen: a grade level teacher from each grade in your building, a representative from special education, a representative from the PE department, art, music, technology, a social worker, a psychologist, a speech pathologist, a teacher’s aide, a cafeteria worker, a bus driver, a resource officer, a secretary, etc. If the aforementioned voices were not present at your leadership meeting, (you are not alone, there are a lot of stakeholder voices that schools are notorious for leaving out of leadership meetings) this would be a great opportunity for you and your team to consider inviting any one or all of these important voices to your next leadership meeting that takes place. However, with that said, there is still a key stakeholder that has been left out of this list — students. Although students are our participants, clients, customers, consumers, teammates, etc. they are often one of the first voices to be left without a seat at the leadership table for collaboration, decision-making, assessing needs, planning, creating action plans, etc.
Why are the youth who fill our hallways everyday, who receive our curriculum that we worked on tirelessly all summer, who motivate us to be better educators and people ourselves, not sitting at the table next to us? Although our youth know our classrooms inside and out, understand the nuances of many of the individual teachers and staff at large, live and breathe the school climate and culture, why do we still think that they will not be able to contribute to our critical conversations?
Not only do our youth need to be at the table while we are developing systems, analyzing school data, and implementing academic and behavioral practices to help support them, but they need to be asked their opinions, thoughts, feelings, and perspectives every step of the way. It is important to ask not one or two students (often pulled from student council or student leadership), but ALL students. There are several different ways to create a larger student voice at the table and involved in the critical decision-making that is taking place in our schools. Here are a few to consider:
- Invite students to be leaders on leadership teams throughout the school, where their voice is equal to others on the team.
- Send out student surveys throughout the year regarding items such as school safety, discipline, acknowledgments, etc. Share the results with the staff and students throughout the year.
- Create a student voice committee. Invite students from all different corners of the building to be on this committee. Try to make sure that all the different voices of the youth in the building are represented, not just the faces that are typically seen. Ask this committee for their opinions regarding all different kinds of decisions being made in the building.
- Ask a forum/roundtable of students to give their feedback on the student handbook. Use their feedback to make appropriate adaptations in the handbook, and let the staff and student body know that this took place.
Now, imagine your next school leadership team meeting. You are sitting next to the principal on one side and a student from the building on the other side. Which student will you choose to be at the table with you?
Teach ALL: Think positive. Be proactive. Nurture partnerships.