Capturing students’ voices and perspectives can be a powerful tool in achieving positive outcomes for school districts, but broad representation can be difficult to accomplish.
“There can be a tokenism around student voice that limits the process. Having a group of high-performing students come and talk to the board about an issue doesn’t really give you the best possible, representative understanding of your student population.”
– Dr. David Keohane, Superintendent of Schools, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools
Thoughtexchange provides school and district leaders with a way to meaningfully engage students about their experiences, concerns, and priorities. It is important to consider when and how to engage with students to get the full benefit of their perspective.
When to engage with students
The best time to include students in your exchanges is when their perspective can have a meaningful impact on the decision-making process.
Here are some recommendations and example questions for engaging students about the issues that matter most to them:
- Student Values - Broad engagement to inform district and school decisions about budget allocations, program opportunities, and extracurricular activities.
- Question: What would improve your learning experience at school?
- Student Event Planning - Empowering and supporting students to collaboratively plan activities such as spirit days, homecoming, and graduation.
- Question: What are some things you would like us to think about when planning our graduation activities?
- Leadership Development - Building ownership and leadership in students, e.g. exchanges related to planning student senate projects and providing social-emotional support for peers.
- Question: What are some important things we can do together to support the well-being of yourself and other students at school?
- Active Engagement in Learning - Supporting broader involvement in sensitive or challenging classroom discussions, e.g. providing a platform for assisting with senior capstone project research.
- Question: After reading about __________ , what are your thoughts or questions about how we view __________ (race, gender, etc.) in our school and society?
- Student Wellness and Mental Health - Supporting a culture of respect and inclusion.
- Question: What are some important things we could do to help make our school feel more welcoming?
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. 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 - and the possible responses you will hear from students - is better suited to a separate, student-only exchange.
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.) while parents and other adults often focus on higher level 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 shared by students and vice versa can add a degree of richness to an exchange that might otherwise be missing. 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!
Participating in class
If you do decide to include students in your exchange, you can share the participation link with them via email and social media., The best way to ensure students take the time to participate is to set aside some class time for them to do so. It can take as little as fifteen minutes and it guarantees you hear from a wide swath of the student population.
For tips on how to facilitate an in-class engagement, check out our guide to Supporting Student Exchanges.