If you are not using your high school students as strategic partners, you are absolutely leaving a valuable resource on the bench. Every time I work with students in design mode, inviting them into the process of designing how to align teaching and learning more closely with the skills and content that is most valuable to them, they CRUSH it. This week it was with a group of juniors and seniors at Warwick Valley High, and simply, they blew us away.
I am working with Warwick Valley Central School District on a long-term re-imagination of what learning can and should look like as we face the challenges of a rapidly changing world. In the fall we spent a day with the combined faculties of their elementary, middle, and high schools, unwrapping their collective wisdom as we build a sense of community-wide vision…what I call their unique North Star. In setting the way forward, Superintendent David Leach and board chair Lynn Lillian agreed that we should turn over authentic ownership of part of the process to the students. We knew we wanted to gather input from students, parents, and other community stakeholders, so we asked “what if we have students design and implement this process?” What other school or district does something like that? Not many. And all the rest of you are making a huge mistake!
This week we asked students in the Leadership Academy to gather for a morning; it was a faculty PD day, so this was vacation for them, and 25 showed up anyway. We threw them straight into the deep end of the pool. Less than three hours later, three groups had designed, prototyped, and refined complete plans for comprehensive outreach and data collection of essential questions to all of the students and parents and in district, as well as community-at large stakeholders. All three groups:
- Generated a detailed proposal
- Wrote out a to-do list
- Assigned responsibilities for every thing from small group interviews with elementary school students, to contacting the local paper for free advertising, to arranging a ten-minute student-led session at the Rotary Club.
- Promptly sent team leaders next door to set up meetings with Dr. Leach to pitch their proposals and put them in play next week.
Lynn and I were particularly awed at how quickly and easily the students fell into collaborative rolls and how easily they adopted to our favorite “I like”, “I wonder”, “What if” feedback protocol. Adults often struggle to make a shift into this mode of collegial feedback that is both all-positive and expands design team thinking. The kids took to it like ducks to water.
If I am being completely honest, in my experience, completing this same design task to a similar level of quality, completeness, and creativity with a group of 25 adults would rarely occur in under three hours. Just observing the group in this mode would have been a great morning of PD for more traditional teachers; next time we will not miss out on this opportunity. And if you want to know more about how to engage your students at this level , just give me a shout!