Hosting a student Exchange ensures that student voices are considered in your decision-making process. Students are often the most enthusiastic participants in an Exchange, but there are some special considerations that go along with designing and hosting them.
What follows is a discussion of how to effectively support student participation. For an explanation of why & when to host student-only Exchanges, click here.
How to engage with students
Once you have determined that your students can provide valuable insight into the topic at hand, it is important to consider how you will engage with them.
Creating Space for Student Participation
Building trust with your student body is an important first step. If trust is an issue and students aren’t acclimated to sharing feedback with your district, we recommend that leaders start with the basics and first address immediate concerns, like safety, security, and their immediate learning environment. You can then build up to deeper, broader, and more complex topics and engagements, like addressing student culture and envisioning solutions for the future.
A critical first question to ask yourself is whether students should be included in the conversation with parents, staff and community members, or if the topic is better suited to a separate, student-only exchange. Start small and focused, and build up to bigger engagements.
- Students often bring a very different perspective to a ThoughtExchange. Their thoughts are often focused on the day-to-day operations of a particular school (e.g. lunch menus, cleanliness, WIFI, etc.)
- Parents and other adults often concentrate on future-focused topics that are relevant to the whole district (e.g. learning outcomes, curriculum, budgets, etc.)
- Students’ language skills are also at a different level than those of adults, so certain ideas can get lost in translation when the two groups are part of one exchange.
- That said, exposing parents to thoughts and perspectives shared by students and vice versa can add a degree of richness to an Exchange that might otherwise be missing.
Consider using the Participation Groups feature if you decide it will be best to have students only interacting and rating thoughts from their fellow students. It is up to you as a leader to decide which approach makes the most sense for your particular exchange. If you’re unsure, Thoughtexchange staff are ready and happy to help!
Exchange Question & Introduction
- Students will engage when the topic is relevant, and they believe their perspectives can have a meaningful impact on the decision-making process. Keep this in mind when designing the right question for your students, and click here for some examples.
- Consider having your student advisory council, and other relevant student groups, help you craft the question and present it to their peers. Including students in the process can help build trust and empower your student body to be an integral part of the decision-making process.
- We’ve seen great success with districts who include a video in their introduction. It makes the Exchange more personal, human, and students feel more connected. Which means they are more likely to engage seriously and respectfully.
Ensure students understand that their thoughts are important and valued, however, they need to remain appropriate and productive. With student exchanges, most leaders initially gravitate towards more moderation, and in time, as leaders and students become more familiar with the process, their use of moderation changes.
Moderation settings can be enabled to automatically flag or remove thoughts that:
- Mention teachers, students or other people by name.
- Contain rude or hurtful content.
- Are duplicate thoughts from the same participant.
You can also choose whether or not thoughts that are flagged for review (either by participants or the software itself) will be removed from the Exchange until someone is able review them.
Additional moderation best practices:
- Ensure you have enough staff resources to monitor the exchange daily (and sometimes hourly) for any unproductive student behavior.
- Facilitated classroom engagement is strongly encouraged for student exchanges. This is particularly important if your student body isn’t acclimated to the opportunity to share their voice in an open-ended and transparent format. See facilitation steps below.
- Set clear expectations for what responsible digital citizenship looks like. Clearly communicate why you are giving them the opportunity to engage, and how their feedback will directly impact their school environment and experience.
- Clearly state your moderation guidelines in your Exchange Introduction so that everyone is on the same page.
- For student Exchange topics that you anticipate may be contentious or polarizing, consider the following:
- Turn the sign-up/login option on, so students must sign in before participating.
- Close the Exchange temporarily each evening. Poor student behavior in an Exchange often happens outside of classroom hours, and closing the Exchange at night can help mitigate late night “keyboard warriors”.
For more information on exchange settings to consider for Student Voice exchanges, click here.
Facilitating student participation
Students can be invited to participate in an Exchange through the same channels as any other participant (ex. email invitations, social media posts, etc.) but one of the best ways to ensure your students take the time to share and rate thoughts is by designating some class time for them to do so where a teacher can help facilitate.
- Let your students know that the ThoughtExchange process has 3 steps:
- Share: share thoughts in response to the open-ended question, independently and confidentially.
- Rate: read thoughts shared by you and other participants, and rate thoughts out of 5 stars.
- View results: learn what matters to the group by exploring the thoughts and how they were rated.
- It is important to guide your students through the process. Please ensure they understand each question they are being asked.
- The facilitator should also participate in the Exchange, if appropriate.
- Use Presenter Mode, or provide students with the direct link to the Exchange to participate on their devices.
- There will be a bit of fussing at first as people get organized and sort out how to join. Don't panic. Encourage students to help their neighbor - the room will soon become very quiet!
- Give them about 10-12 minutes to enter their thoughts and rate.
- About halfway through (usually around the 5-minute mark), announce that if they haven't gone to the rating step yet, please do now. Ideally, you would like participants to rate around 30 thoughts each.
- You can keep an eye on the thoughts being entered by refreshing the “Discover Dashboard” page. Use the Moderation tab for any flagged thoughts that need to be addressed. The teacher facilitating the Exchange should be given access to this dashboard using the Manage feature.