Student Voice: The Sweetest Sound

This week was a big one for student voice at JPII. We hosted our second round of Student Town Halls for all our grades and tried to focus the conversation around student opinion about their own learning. I think as educators it is just a good idea to hear about what ideas and practices are working and possibly those that are not. The video above is an example of the talk (that we also live streamed using Google Hangouts so that others could watch), and while there was lots of talk about technology and improved resources it seems that the most important resource is still an engaging and caring teacher. This is what students said made the difference for them. The one thing I did see lacking was that students could not reflect on too many things that they study that they can see directly impacting them. This will be the topic for my next post and more specifically the fact that students did not even think that school SHOULD be useful for their present lives. Lots of meat on that bone…

Also this week a group of our students were preparing to talk about Student Voice at JPII in a presentation done to the ministry of education at the beginning of June. They are a bit nervous but I know they will do incredibly well as they simply talk about everything they have done so far this year.

The other major event this week was a proposed change to the student government at our school. We have long been known as the school with a million councils because we have so many students that are looking for leadership opportunities that there have been a number of councils formed. There are three main leadership groups including the Executive Student Council, the Executive Leadership Council and the Panther’s Athletic Council. The proposal is to have these groups dissolve and then form one group that is more representative of the student population through a mix of elected and appointed positions. to say the least, this was a contentious issue with a lot of emotions. Most of the interested parties are grade 11 students, that have worked hard on council for a few years and were looking forward to having their own leadership position ready for next year. This plan will slightly change that, but many feel it is in the best interest of the school.

I am only the principal and since I am only a steward meant to do the best I can for the school in the limited time I have (our board does not allow a principal to stay in a school for longer than 7 years), I really should not have too much of  a say in this decision. This is their voice and their activism and so should be their decision (along with their teacher moderators). Because of that, I was at a meeting on Friday night as more of an observer and possibly an informed voice of advice if needed.

What I witnessed on that night was exactly what every educational leader should look for in their school. There was an honest and critical conversation between students and teachers about a topic that was important to both of them. There were emotions for sure, but these emotions did not get in the way of good debate and sharing. One could even see that there was a good deal of self interest on both sides of the debate, but these interests never trumped the needs of the school. I genuinely wish I saw more of this from adults when they are trying to come to a decision. Often self interest and agendas get in the way of real progress and certainly emotions often cloud the subject as people take criticism or alternative points of view personally. This did not happen at this meeting. Everyone intently listened to the other side and compromises were explored and discussed. A final decision will come Tuesday and I won’t be there to see it, but it was great to be able to attend this meeting.

There will certainly be those that are disappointed by the decision and some that feel very passionate about opposing it, but I can guarantee that all learned and grown from this experience. Both staff and students in attendance saw what it was like to have a passionate yet productive discussion. They all were able to hear, internalize and then explore the ideas of the other and there is truly nothing more that you can hope for in a discussion like this. As I said earlier, any adult committee or organization could learn a lot from the amazing people that were present at this meeting. They could learn what REAL collaboration looks like and my hope is that everyone will see how the fruits of this work will improve an already pretty incredible school.

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