Last Friday, 30 students from Forest Hills Northern High School spent 3 hours with teachers and administrators collaborating around school improvement. The students planned and facilitated the time as part of amplifying their student voices, using a model created by Mount Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia.
FHN has three school improvement goals for 2016-17: an increase in reading proficiency for all students, an increase in critical thinking skills for all students, and a minimum of one year of growth for all students. As you read through this post, you will see how the collaborative learning efforts focused in on all three.
The morning began with a 1/2 hour "soft start," as a way to build trust and relationships in an informal setting. A continental breakfast was provided, and staff were invited to enter the collaborative space at their choosing:
During this time, staff were also asked to think about where they perceived student voice currently resided in the school.
Once 7:45am hit, we had an official "hard start" to the next three hours. Students outlined the agenda and goals for the morning, intentionally utilizing a "what-why-how" for each section. Here, a student is taking the group through the Norms of Collaboration that guided the learning and work:
As the norms were discussed, the facilitator sought input from the large group on how those norms might look or sound in a classroom.
If you recall from an early blog post, the students drafted and sent out a survey to the entire student body. During Friday's collaborative time, staff were placed in carousel groups to experience a 10 minute data dive in each survey category (teaching & learning, technology, student well-being, and school structures). Here is one example, as staff experienced an interactive activity with the students in the well-being group:
The data dive with this group centered around the number of students who perceive that there is no adult in the school to whom they could approach with a problem. Students highlighted that they knew teachers cared, and dialogue took place on how a collaborative effort might demonstrate this to all students.
Once the carousel data dives were completed, staff were asked to vote on one issue to spend the remainder of the morning focused on. It was the issue of the inclusion of a seminar period in the school day, where students could achieve one or more of the following needs in a structured setting: 1) extra help in content where they are struggling; 2) explore passions and interests more deeply around a co-created curriculum; and 3) build supportive relationships with a specific teacher and a set group of peers. These support all three of FHN's school improvement goals, and touched upon survey data from both the student well-being and school structure dives.
Students and staff were purposefully re-grouped, and the next 75-90 minutes were spent developing a vision, using the Force Field protocol out of Gregory & Kuzmich's Teacher Teams That Get Results:
By the time the protocol was completed, lots of ideas -- with timelines and names of responsible persons -- were generated:
Members of each of the five groups will be checking back in with each other over the next month.
The students also sent an evaluation to the staff who collaborated with them, and some great "soundbites" were collected...
Students thoughts/feelings are not necessarily what I would have predicted.
Students have a lot to say and we need to listen more.
It was fun and thought provoking to work with the students today. This is a dialogue that we should work in more frequently. Perhaps a seminar would be a vehicle to do just that.
It is encouraging to see that students are passionate about the direction of schooling and the structure of how things are done.
My year 12 colleagues and I will debrief later this week, and make plans for moving forward. In the meantime, if you're an educator and haven't asked students their thoughts about school lately, try it!
Join the conversation...
How have or might you amplify student voice in your school around school improvement?