Necessity is the mother of invention as they say. Once I decided to jump back into teaching after a 14 year hiatus, it was necessary for me to learn effective strategies and put them into place as quickly as possible. Much educational research had occurred in my absence and I did not want to spend one more minute employing obsolete practices. First, I updated my understanding of current theories by taking online classes, watching webinars, and joining the #edutwitter community. Then I got a job and headed back into the classroom.
Just as I remembered when I had my first teaching assignment, understanding the theories of education and actually teaching are two different animals. More often than not, your first year of teaching is a sink or swim experience, and I was beginning to have the feelings of deja vu. Again, it became necessary for me to find answers to my questions – and find them fast.
I started to find answers to some of my most pressing problems from a surprising source: my own kindergarten students. If I wanted to establish a new routine, or we had an unexpected schedule change, I asked my waist-high friends for input. Each time that I made room for their thoughts and ideas, I was blown away. They came up with ideas that I hadn’t thought of. Most of the time, the solution to the problem was a mash-up of my thoughts and their ideas.
The following year I taught second grade and the same thing happened. At first I thought it was a fluke, and they were just getting lucky. Over time, I realized that the results were consistent. Whenever I asked for input, the students would give me several ideas that I had not thought of on my own. In addition, there was greater buy-in from the students regardless of our path forward. I was beginning to see the benefits of including student voice in the classroom.
Once I realized that including student voice was an effective teaching strategy, I started to look for ways to incorporate it. I found a multitude of opportunities. If we needed to practice opinion writing, I would ask the students what issues were hotly debated among their friends. If our iPad cords kept getting tangled, I asked them how we could solve this problem. If a classmate’s pet died, we would brainstorm together ways to show support.
What I realized over time was that including student voice was more than an effective strategy. It was a shift in mindset. As we continue to embrace 21st century teaching, we leave behind a teacher-centered approach. What I began to realize was that the classroom wasn’t mine; it was ours. It belonged to all of the students and myself. We were a community and each member had the capacity to make important contributions on a daily basis.
How can you include student voice in your community?