Cassie’s petition and the power of student voice

Cassie's petition and the power of student voice

My daughter, Cassie, is taking her learning in her own hands (or is trying to!). Her petition to her teacher shows examples of how student voice can be harnessed for great gains. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Conley)

My daughter, Cassie, is a second-grader.

She loves to read. She loves animals. She loves trying new things.

She’s apparently also a huge change agent in her classroom (or is trying to be).

Yesterday, Cassie was thinking about how things were going in her classroom and started brainstorming what would make learning more interesting for her and her classmates. Her ideas:

  • Have two hours to do whatever we want
  • Have a class pet
  • Let us read comic books for reading tests

She even included a bulleted list, something they’ve been learning about.

Then she took her ideas to her peers. She made a petition on handwriting practice paper and took it to recess. She got most of her class to sign the petition (including a staff member) and quietly left it on her teacher’s desk. 

Her teacher, knowing Cassie’s handwriting and her personality, figured out pretty quickly who the ringleader was for this little work of activism.

The beauty of this is that the teacher wasn’t upset about it. She didn’t see Cassie’s ambition as an act of usurping her authority. Plus, she’s looking into ways that she can fit their requests into her classroom activities.

There are several reasons why I love this story (even despite the personal connection and bias I have!):

  • The students are working with the teacher to craft their own education. Granted, not all of it is 100 percent academically focused (although the two hours to do whatever they want could be construed as 20 percent time / Genius Hour).
  • The teacher was flexible and understanding. Instead of getting frustrated with the kids, she’s looking to use their preferences to engage them in their learning.
  • The students were respectful about their requests. They didn’t complain or talk about what they didn’t like about their class (which, for Cassie, is nothing — she loves her class and her teacher). They kept it positive and presented it to the teacher on paper for her to deal with when she was ready.

Student voice is a powerful force. When we include our students’ ideas and opinions in education, they take ownership of their own learning.

And when they feel that their education reflects their own desires and interests, the result is so much greater than if activities are imposed from the top down.

Education has to stay relevant to our students’ lives. When students tell us what they want to learn and how the want to learn it, that’s a key they’re giving us to unlock their motivation. They’re letting us in to a very personal, special place.

We have to make the most of those moments. If we don’t, we may be shut out and disconnected.

But if we do, great things can happen.

Thanks, Mrs. Conley, for listening to Cassie. She appreciates it, too.

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