I have long advocated for advisory committees for schools and over the years brought in parents, business partners, educators at the post-secondary level and even students to discuss needed improvements in programs and schools. I patted myself on the back for bringing these people in to hear about what wonderful things we were doing in my classroom. Later, I wised up and actually brought them in and asked them what I should be teaching. Mom was right about the two ears and one mouth thing. I have continued this practice but until recently I have always felt that I have gotten what I needed in terms of input from those sitting at the table. In the past three years, I have come to realize that although they are at the table, I really don't get much from the students in terms of what they want. Why would I expect to when in that type of setting they have been trained to sit and listen, be seen but not heard, not to speak unless spoken to. And of course only the best trained are invited to that particular table.
I changed my approach during the accreditation I participated in at Keokuk and repeated it here in Fort Dodge. I selected a diverse group and ensured that they were honest when questioned. I have a long way to go in this area, however, as I rely on student officers to provide me information about how students feel about initiatives we as adults have put in place.
My eyes have truly been opened while spending time in Rachel Hansen's Government class twice this year and John McBride's Journalism class as well. In Ms. Hansen's classroom the students are charged with designing and delivering their own "Declaration of Independence". Remarkably, the two student groups both cited the lack of their voice in decision making in our school. They proposed changes that are very imaginative and several I plan to implement in our school. Other issues they are protesting, once explained, they were remarkably understanding. I kick myself for not giving students the reasons for many of the rules/policies currently in place. Instead of reasons for the rules we all too often provide consequences when they are broken. We know full well that many of our consequences for rule infractions are ineffective in changing student behavior. Students generally follow rules because they have been "trained" to do so early in their school experience, they understand how doing so benefits them, or they value a relationship they have with the rule maker/enforcer.
We will be selecting a new schedule model we hope to transition to in the 2012-13 school year. Students have already played a big part in the process. I hope to increase their involvement over the next several months. We have a group of students selected blindly from groups of students who are representing desired demographics. Surprisingly, I had better response from the students approached than I did the set of parents which were selected. I have them meet separately and record their questions and suggestions. I feel strongly that adult involvement tends to squelch honesty and creativity.
I have been sitting here this evening pondering the many things we need to get done over the next several weeks, one of which is to discuss possible changes to the student handbook. In other words, changes we will make in the rules we set at the building level. We do this early to ensure we have the opportunity to engage the board in discussions concerning policy when we feel it is necessary. Last year we put a new attendance policy in place which required board approval/action. I have always completed this process using other administrators, teachers and at times parents.
This year I plan to begin the process with students. I plan to have students discuss desired changes in their advisory period. I will compile the information and then hold a forum in the evening for them to come and debate the ideas with myself or other students. We will involve them in the discussion providing them the voice our founding fathers desired when writing their Declaration of Independence from English rule.
As stated earlier, we have a long way to go in bringing students into the governance of our school, but I think involving them in change and hearing from them during in-service is a step in the right direction. One day I hope to see student advisory committees established in each district and maybe even see a requirement for student involvement in policy development.