Today I had the pleasure of facilitating my first of seven listening sessions, asking the question: if you were left to your own devices, how would you transform education? This first session was with a group of eight elementary students. We began with introductions, and I gave them explanations as to why we were here and how the 2-hour session would run. Though I had a process in mind, they were super eager to call out ideas for a new school right away. They came with words and were ready to share. The session ran beautifully, and the students were insightful and articulate. Though we’ll be compiling their thoughts, comments, and artwork into a short film, I’ll give you a little sneak preview here.
Interestingly, when I looked back at the students’ comments, I found that their ideas could not only be used for their ideal school environment, but also for general guidelines for an ideal life. They talked a lot about their physical well-being, wanting more gym, more time outside, more playground space, more green space in general and less concrete. They talked about new food policies, and had strong opinions on what they should look like. More than one student called out for naptime, just like the kindergarteners have, and there was a request for more support for students with learning disabilities.
They wanted lockers and small, private study rooms to secure their individual space, and social groups to support kids going through divorce, bullying, and other tough issues. They wanted community, requesting more family socials like game night and student socials like dances. They wanted art and hands-on science, specifically requesting to study chemistry, to blow up things, to study environmental health, and to try their hand at dissection and mechanical engineering. They wanted to plant gardens and create student committees to care for them. They wanted to expand the role of the student council to serve more like a Parent Teacher Organization, taking a more active role in the support and decision-making processes of the school.
They wanted to study literature by reading and then dramatizing the stories, performing their own plays. They wanted their schoolwork to matter enough to submit to real-world contests. They wanted more field trips and real-world guest experts to visit their classrooms. They wanted their teachers to have adequate resources (they really said that!). They wanted more visuals in the classrooms, like videos, but they specifically asked for better videos – faster, funnier, fresher – something they could relate to. They wanted to learn how to create websites. One student shared an observation that their school counselor had made earlier that day, that memory is solidified by the experience of emotion. The student talked about the need to really feel what they’re learning in order to lock it in their minds.
In short, they wanted to take care of their bodies, feel independent, get messy, learn deeply, create community, and be involved in the running of their school. “Having fun” was a constant theme. Towards the end of the session, one student said, “at the end of the day, I want to want to DO something!” And really, who doesn’t?
A wonderful start to the next couple of weeks. These students were both excited about some of the great positive examples and services their current school was already providing and were empowered to think ahead and generate new ideas. Kudos to the principal and teachers who are nurturing these students and who made today’s event possible!
Next up, the high school students!
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