The Power of Student Voice at the Planning Table

Climate change is a big deal.

This is an issue that the whole world should be talking about, thinking about and planning for. They are at the Paris Climate Change Conference, and they are in the classrooms at my school. Recently, Ministers from Kuwait committed to help in combating climate change – a pretty amazing step for a country whose economy is based primarily on fossil fuels. This action, like most significant actions have the tendency to do, has galvanized our students around what they can do to help the environment in our school community. Here is the story of how our MYP 1 teachers invited student voice to the planning table…

Students in an MYP 1 Science class reviewed the article about Kuwait’s commitment to battling climate change and brainstormed a list of over twenty possible actions they could take to have a more positive impact on the school environment. In fact, what they essentially created was a two year plan for the implementation of a recycling program, campaign against plastic water bottles and eventually the installation of solar panels. Further to this, they broke down what disciplines would be needed to help them in facilitating their goals – not bad for a group of ten year old students on an average school day in late November. Their Science teacher, sensing something awesome was in the works, contacted me with the plan that her students generated, excited to bring this to the rest of the MYP 1 team.

Now, the MYP 1 team was currently in the throes of developing a pretty awesome interdisciplinary unit, but when student voice is your priority, you can’t be shy about pressing the pause button on your “teacher business”. One of my favourite sayings is that students should be working on the same type of problems adults are working on and this fits that criteria perfectly!

I went to the class that generated the list, and we held a quick and impromptu election of student representatives who would be willing to speak on behalf of the entire MYP 1 year at an upcoming interdisciplinary unit planning meeting. While these students were excused from class in order to attend the meeting, I would argue that the skills and IB Learner Profile traits they are developing by representing their peers at the planning table is a unique opportunity that cannot be passed up.

Today the meeting was held and I was reminded how powerful student voice is and how inspiring it can be as an educator to plan alongside your students. Here are some of the moments that really stood out (remember all of these quotes are from our ten year old MYP 1 students):

“I think the work that we are doing will serve as an inspiration to other schools in the community and maybe even the government of Kuwait.”

“It’s not just about putting a recycling programme into place, it’s about brining awareness to environmental issues.”

And my favourite:

“For the Key Concept for this unit, I think we could go in three directions – we could explore Change because we are working to change peoples’ habits, it could be Systems because we are working to install a new system at the school, or it could be Communities, because this is a service that will benefit the whole school community.” 

At this point, the student looked at the group of nine teachers around the table and said, “What do you guys think?” – now that’s collaboration!

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Who better to plan the unit than the learners themselves? 

Our teachers were fantastic, involving the students in every facet of the conversation and really honouring their opinions. “How can Individuals and Societies help you learn more about this issue?”, one of our teachers asked. “Do you think you would be interested in…”, was a sentence-starter used by many of our teachers. Not once were the students talked down to, not once was a teacher afraid to disagree with a student and not once did the students feel intimated to share their opinion – even if that opinion was contrary to their teachers. How empowering must that feel to the learner? How inspiring must that be for the teacher?

Another benefit – the teacher engagement was off the chart. There was no idle chit-chat, no dwelling on classroom management issues, no getting distracted with lesson planning or grading, no talk of being busy or overwhelmed. When we invite the students to the planning table, we are reminded of why we do what we do. This is how we can make our work more significant, relevant and engaging.

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Student and teacher engagement was off the charts. 

I encourage and challenge you to plan your next unit in conjunction with your students. I have challenged our staff to do the same and will be sure to document their experiences in this space.

Do you have experience planning units with your students? How did go? 

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3 comments

  1. Dianne McKenzie · December 6, 2015

    This is fantastic! What a great opportunity harnessed and taken beyond what is even possible. Love it, please keep us updated on what happens. Interdisciplinary units need to be like this.

    Like

  2. Pingback: MYP Learning Experiences Planner | Educationed
  3. Pingback: A more student-centred MYP: Drawing inspiration from TEDed chatters  | Educationed

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