Incorporating Student Voice in the Classroom

Chrissy Talbot
General Education Teacher

Providing students with a voice is an important tool in creating an engaging classroom environment. As an elementary teacher, I’ve noticed that when my students feel that their own voice is valued they are often more willing to take academic risks. Below I’ve listed three practical ways you can provide even your youngest students with an opportunity to have a voice in their own education.

 

1) Morning Meetings & Entrance Tickets:

One way to provide students with a voice is by giving them a platform to express themselves. This can come in multiple forms. You can set up a morning meeting where students have the opportunity to discuss things they are feeling or events happening outside of school. A safe space for students to engage in honest conversation should never be underestimated. Or, if you want something less time-consuming, you can create Google Forms or entrance tickets that ask students to suggest topics for class discussion or their thoughts and opinions on the curriculum. Of course, you can modify these ideas to meet your specific grade level. Starting your day off with an opportunity for students to have a voice sets a tone that their opinions and thoughts matter in your classroom. They are valued.

 

2) Choice in Projects: 

Student voice can also come in the form of choice. This might mean giving students the opportunity to express what they have learned through different mediums. Would they rather make a diorama of an ocean habitat or create a video complete with sound effects and narration? Sometimes it can be hard as the teacher to release some control to our students but by doing so, we are showing our students that we trust them and that we accept them as individuals who may not always learn the same way. You cannot have student voice without student choice.

 

3) Student Surveys:

Lastly, you can promote student voice simply by asking for it. Give students an opportunity to drive your instruction and tell you how they learn best. Student surveys at the beginning of the year are helpful to get an understanding of how our students learn. We can then decide if we need more group projects or technology or visuals in the way we deliver instruction. But the surveys shouldn’t stop in the fall. We need to continue to ask our students for feedback. Would students like to see more videos or do more hands-on experiments? Assessments give us a lot of information about how much a student has learned but they don’t give us insight on the student’s learning experience. I believe learning experiences should count for something because, after all, aren’t we trying to foster a love of learning in our students? I think the best way to do this is to give the students a voice continuously in the way we deliver our instruction and the way we assess our students.

 

These are just a few strategies you can employ in your classroom to help lift up your students’ voices and make them feel heard.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook or forget about the importance of this work but it’s so important for building long-term relationships with our students. We owe it to our students to show them that their thoughts are valued.

 

To learn more about Social-Emotional Learning and access additional resources to support a SEL environment, click here.

 

This article was originally published by Savvas: https://blog.savvas.com/incorporating-student-voice-in-the-classroom

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chrissy Talbot

“My name is Chrissy and I am a creative, hard-working, and passionate teacher. I’ve been teaching second grade for the past four years on Long Island, New York. I’m currently the general education teacher in an inclusive classroom environment, and I LOVE it! I received my BA in Elementary Education from Stonehill College in Massachusetts and later earned my Masters in TESOL from Touro College in New York. When I’m not lesson planning or making anchor charts for my kiddos, I am reading books on my couch, planning my latest travel adventure, or spending time with my friends and family.”

Embracing democratic dissent in a data-driven age

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge

 

Introduction

We teach in a pre-service teacher programme that prepares students for a teaching career in international schools. In one of the courses, we discuss models of teacher appraisal and teacher effectiveness, their purposes, and how different schools approach them. We ask whether or not student performance data should be part of these processes. During the discussion, it is inevitable that one of the students will argue that data must be used because, ultimately, the most important concern of a school is the learning of students.

 

During our time as schoolteachers and in our ongoing conversations with colleagues, we have heard this same argument, in different forms, many times over.

 

How dare you – it’s all about student learning!

These days, we often hear that the student – and student learning – are more important than anything else, and should be the yardstick for all that happens in schools. The problem with this is that it seems impossible to argue against. Who in their right mind is going to say “the students aren’t really the most important” or “hmm, I don’t think student learning is really at the centre of what we do as a school”?

 

The view that student learning is the aim of schooling might seem obvious, but has been challenged, perhaps most notably by the academic Gert Biesta who argues that education is a much broader enterprise. While the claim that student learning is all that matters is itself problematic, it is also used all too often as a “shut down” to alternative voices.

 

If you’ve ever tried questioning the latest initiative focusing on wellbeing, resilience, growth mindset, or “soft skills”, you’ve probably experienced “the shutdown”! If you’re thinking of being that person, good luck!

 

The ‘research shows’ argument

Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting about increasing the quantity of reporting. The school leadership is arguing that parents should get more regular feedback, as well as more detailed end-of-term reports. As concerns about the increased administrative requirements for teachers are voiced, the reply comes: “research shows that formative feedback and home-school partnerships are key to student improvement, and surely that is our primary aim?”

 

The argument here is not only that student learning is the only thing that matters, but that ‘the research’ undeniably supports the particular initiative being proposed. In this sense, ‘the research’ is often quoted in a vague and ‘handwaving’ manner to justify an initiative. After all, who can argue with ‘the research’?

 

So, just like the ‘student learning’ strategy, the ‘research says’ declaration is too often used to quash dissenting voices.

 

Democratic education

The dissenting voice, however, is central to ensuring a democratic education.

 

Put another way, the data-driven, evidence-based discourses in schools risk undermining the various forms of education that prioritise students’ responses to the world around them, inquiry and the construction of knowledge, and engaged citizenship, all elements of a broader vision of education than one which simply focuses on ‘learning.’

 

When teachers become focused on the numbers and the data, they are more likely to engage in practices that primarily focus on that which can be measured. That is, teachers are more likely to do the equivalent of ‘teaching to the test’. As a result, we start to value what we measure instead of measuring what we value (Biesta).

 

Given that many international schools claim to provide exactly the kind of education that guides students in becoming responsible members of a global society, it is important that we consider the implications of focusing on data and numbers.

 

Dissenting voices

In fact, if we really believe that the best education for our students is that which ‘draws out and opens up’ rather than ‘narrows in and closes down’, then we ought to be more, not less, sceptical about educational agendas which flatten and standardise practices.

 

And we ought to be willing to embrace dissenting voices from teachers as well as students.

 

But while we make the argument for allowing dissent, it is important to note that this is not the same as mere complaint. Dissent, it can be argued, is more closely aligned to democratic education, not because it allows the community to simply say whatever they want, but because it involves giving account for one’s position.

 

Dissent emerges from genuine concerns – whether philosophical, practical, political or pedagogical – and can, therefore, play an important role not only in critiquing the way things are, but in contributing to different and innovative ideas for education.

 

Embracing alternative views for education

The start of a new school year is the time in which new initiatives are proposed with energy and enthusiasm. School leaders are often keen to ensure that they push something through, before the grind of the daily and weekly routine sets in. As such, it can be tempting to resist the dissenting voices by invoking ‘the research’ which is, in actual fact, always contestable, or the centrality of student learning.

 

Managed well, a genuine invitation for dissent is to see any proposal of a new initiative as an educative opportunity itself. It is an opportunity for the community to genuinely inquire into, grapple with, critique and imagine alternatives. It is an opportunity to ask: what does the data actually tell us? What does the research not address? And, are there other factors – outside the data or the research – that perhaps ought, nevertheless, to carry more weight in making a decision?

 

A school that breeds a culture of genuine engagement with ideas, and leaders who genuinely listen to dissenting voices, model something of the kind of democratic education that so many international schools claim to promote. In embracing this culture within the staff, the effects will be felt across the school, including in the classrooms.

 

So, next time we are tempted to shut down debate by blithely stating “learning is the most important thing” or “the research says”, perhaps it is worth thinking about what this says about our perspective on the role of education.

 

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge have all been teachers and leaders in international schools. They now work in the Department of International Education at The Education University of Hong Kong, where they teach and conduct research on critical aspects of international schooling.

The Power of Community and Masterminds – creating connection and empowerment during our world crisis

 

Becky Carlzon
Co-creator of LearningPioneers.co and Letspressplay.co

 

If there’s one thing for sure, our shared recent world crisis has rocked the world. In many ways, this has had devastating consequences – lives have been lost, businesses have crumbled, people have been isolated.

 

In other ways, we have had to learn to pivot – to think on our feet and think up creative and innovative ways to solve problems; most closely to our hearts as teachers, this has involved developing effective online learning programmes whilst juggling home lives, navigating new technology and, if we’re lucky, getting out of our pyjamas, ready for our 8am maths lesson, trying to maintain the focus of 30 children surrounded by siblings, pets, and, in one of my calls, a feral bat!

 

Although this has been a challenging process, perhaps there are some gifts too – some silver-linings to the cloud of COVID. For me, one of these gifts has been making space to reimagine.

 

Here are a few ways I started to reimagine after online learning:

 

  • I wonder what learnings I can take forward from developing lessons remotely? What new technology can I incorporate? How might I be able to plan for more cross year group learning? How can I deepen relationships with families and therefore impact more on learning?
  • Can we build connection and community, even when isolated in our own homes?
  • Now that we can’t invite in consultants for staff training, how else could we develop effective professional learning opportunities?

 

It was these final two wonderings, that led me to develop online learning communities and Masterminds. Here were my “what ifs” to make that happen:

 

  • What if we could create a safe space for hungry-to-learn practitioners to connect?
  • What if we could run regular “Mastermind” sessions where we could troubleshoot best practice together?
  • What if we could collectively write a list of “dream” speakers and co-create questions for them to suit our individual needs and contexts?
  • What if, by doing this, we could connect practitioners, philosophies, curriculums across the globe and, in doing so, open our minds to new possibilities?

 

Well, that’s just what we did – We built an international community called “Learning Pioneers” committed to learning from and with one another, powered by the world’s learning minds. Since I have worked closely with Professor Guy Claxton, this began as developing our practice in Learning Power. Since then, it has expanded to exploring any ideas and approaches that empower students and ensure learning is meaningful, purposeful and joyful. So far, we have co-created interviews for speakers including Kath Murdoch, Professor Guy Claxton, Trevor MacKenzie, James Nottingham and David Price OBE. We have learned and implemented effective strategies in, amongst others, assessment, learning environments, growth mindset, agency and challenge.

 

And, now, a year after having got this started, we are really starting to understand the impact of developing a learning community like this. Research into teacher collective efficacy, shows that continuous professional dialogue over time can have a 4-fold impact on learning (Hattie). A GTCE study in 2007 found that effective teacher learning involves sustained interactions and interventions over time, teacher choice and influence over their learning and learning within a collaborative network – turns out, we have all three.

 

So, now I am wondering:

 

  • How can I empower others to set up learning communities of their own? Our focus is on the most impactful and meaningful learning. Other communities could be set up around STEM, best use of technology, oracy, inquiry, student agency, SEND provision … The possibilities are endless!
  • How can we go even deeper in our Learning Pioneers community? For example, Dr Kulvarn Atwal, who has a PhD in developing dynamic learning communities, will be an integral part of our learning next year.
  • What would this look like as a whole-school approach to professional learning? Not only are whole schools signing up to Learning Pioneers, but I have developed a new learning community called “PressPlay” with Kym Scott, Early Childhood Consultant, dedicated to supporting and empowering schools to take play beyond Early Years.

 

And I am wondering about you too.

 

  • What have your greatest challenges been during our world crisis? Did you get better at overcoming them as time went on?
  • Were there any silver linings to your clouds?
  • What are your thoughts on online learning communities? If you were to set one up, what would you like to investigate and learn about with others? Which speakers would you invite in?!

 

I would love to hear the answers to these questions! Imagine if we could all connect with like minds across the globe to learn and grow together? We could fire up education and learning from the ground up and, quite frankly, change the world (or at least our part of it!).

 

You can link with Becky via Twitter @beckycarlzon  and via LinkedIn.

 

And find out more about her learning communities via:

 

Learningpioneers.co

and

Letspressplay.co

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Becky is the Co-creator of Learning Pioneers, with a focus to make our classrooms as exciting, impactful and purposeful as possible. You can find out more at learningpioneers.co.

She is also the co-author of Powering Up Children, which is bursting with tips and techniques to get students learning muscles stretching from a young age. The book is designed for busy primary school teachers who want to get started on the LPA journey as well as for those who have already made good progress and are looking for fresh ideas.

Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal

 

Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting

 

It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.

 

Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:

 

Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.

 

Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.

 

Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.

 

As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Leveraging student voice for a new world

 

Marta Medved Krajnovic
and Stephen Taylor
Western Academy of Beijing

 

This article first appeared in the June issue of International School Leader.

At a recently hosted TEDx at Western Academy Beijing (WAB), eight students shared ideas that were informed or inspired by the coronavirus outbreak. Topics ranged from innovation in biotechnology to music production at home, to learn more about what we are as humans and how we react when faced with a global crisis.

 

Research is confirming that being empowered, having voice and choice, and working together increases not only engagement, motivation and learning, but also student well-being. It is not just special events that create the opportunities for student agency to drive the learning in our schools. That journey of ‘students in the centre’ started at WAB through our founding values and, over time as an International Baccalaureate continuum school, we have incorporated it into all stages of our teaching, learning and school development.

 

Student voice and choice in daily learning

Even our youngest learners in Elementary have choice and voice, from how they connect with a unit of inquiry to the opportunities to co-create their daily schedule. In Grade 3, students engage with a prompt, “what did I do well this week and what do I need to spend more time on”, and then based on their responses they allocate part of their schedule to focus on this area. In Middle School, our student surveys have become a continuous collaborative effort with the Middle School student council. They work with school leadership to co-create the questions and analyse the results. Questions cover teaching, social-emotional support and inclusion, and the responses inform our planning for the coming year. In the Middle and High Schools, we have a nine-day rotation in our schedule. On Day 9 students have full freedom of choice on how to build the most inspiring and helpful day for them. Choices include academic, social, physical, leadership or creative options. Students also have the opportunity to lead workshops for their peers and teachers. Another example of student agency is Grades 6–9 Maths. During these lessons, students can choose whether they want to work in groups or individually, the space they think is most conducive to learning and whether they would like self- or teacher-directed instruction.

 

Student voice events at WAB

TEDx is not the only event where students have the opportunity to share their voices. When planning our global conference, students have played an integral role. At the Future of Education Now (FOEN) 2019 conference at WAB, students were supported with a facilitated stream over the three days where they could join workshops and speaker sessions. The conference culminated with a student-led closing keynote where they shared their vision of the future of education.

 

Student voice in the design of space

As spaces at WAB are changed to better support learning and well-being, so our students have a voice in the design. For their new Middle School playground, the student council surveyed and ran focus groups with fellow students on what they would like. Their feedback resulted in a tailor-made space that is used not only for play but also as a dynamic learning environment.

 

“We are facing not only a public health emergency with COVID-19, but also an economic and climate emergency… I can’t vote for another five years, and neither can my friends, but my family, teachers and politicians can invite more of us into their conversations about how we envisage our world. So, before you ask us the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” ask us the question, “what kind of world do you want to live in.” We need everyone, adults and children in this fight for a better future and the only way to do that is together.”  – Jeremy. Grade 8 TEDx speaker

 

“Perseverance has become almost like a ‘hello’ part of our daily conversations. But contrary to its usual connotation, our constant need to persevere has shown us that we can transform it into creativity, wellbeing, and fulfilment. With our speakers and audience spread across the globe last year, we took on the challenge to host an online event. Despite the physical distance, it brought us as an organising team closer, and showed us how we can transform our stress and fear of the unknown into a movement for empowering student voices and learning. We turned our resilience into passion, which has, in turn, become a part of our well-being.” – Katarina. Grade 12 TEDx leader.

 

In our High School, a Design in Service (DIS) student group has been working with the leadership team to redesign the outdoor spaces of the campus and to purchase new furniture. As part of the refurbishing of the High School, a sample classroom was set up and students and teachers tested furniture and gave feedback. Their feedback was the basis on which the final decisions were made.

 

Student leadership and voice in strategic planning

In 2016, in the process of creating the WAB 2017–2021 strategic plan and envisaging our innovative education strategy (later named FLOW 21), students across all school sections were already quite articulate about what kind of school experiences they would like to see. They wanted greater control over what, when and how they learned; they wanted their work to be meaningful and relevant, and they wanted passionate and engaged teachers.

 

Five years down the road, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the complexity, disruption and grief it has brought, we feel an even deeper urge to engage our students in interdisciplinary, transformative, creative and joyful learning that will help them better understand and navigate a complex world. However, isn’t it presumptuous to think that we are the ones who can help students understand the world around them? Maybe they are the ones who can help us understand it better and discover what we need to learn and do to help our students “find their voices to create a world as it could be, should be, might be, what we hope it will and what we hope it won’t be” (Steve Sostak, Inspire Citizens).

 

Guided by that thought, from being only one of the voices in our strategic planning five years ago, this time around our students are leading WAB 2021 strategic planning and engaging the whole school community – their peers, their teachers, their parents – in designing ‘Portraits of WAB Alumni’. They are change-makers that will leave WAB with a sense of agency and empathy, voice and confidence.

 

Giving students voice and choice can be uncomfortable as we cannot predict what student voices will raise, what choices they will make, what disruption will happen in some of the ways we approach teaching and learning. Nevertheless, at WAB we firmly believe that the synergy between student agency and our school mission, and our willingness to listen and learn together, are our best guarantee that WAB alumni are future-ready.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic is Head of School and Stephen Taylor is Director of Innovation in Learning and Teaching at Western Academy of Beijing.
Connect with them on LinkedIn: Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic and Stephen Taylor.

Helping Students Find Their GPS; Gifts, Passions, and Sense of Service.

Jade Vidler, Deputy Housemistress, Sotogrande International School.

Helping Students Find Their GPS; Gifts, Passions, and Sense of Service.

In September 2019 we were reminded of the power of children and young people as millions of students forgave their education, using their voices to stand up against climate change. One student, Greta Thunburg, led this specific movement using her own GPS. This is a strong reminder that students already are agents of positive change and their capabilities should not be underestimated.  

Helping pupils find their gifts, passions and sense of service is arguably the most important thing a school can do. Encouraging students to uncover what they are passionate about; what they care about and ultimately how they want to shape their lives leads to well-rounded individuals who are equipped with direction for life post-education. However these factors have to be nurtured; there needs to be time and space for these gifts and passions to emerge, and students need to feel empowered. 

When students realise that their agency is entirely within their own power and not something they are born with or without, and they start to explore it and feel passionate and empowered by it, then the magic can really be unleashed. Poon (2018) in Education Reimagined explained student agency as having four components: 1) setting advantageous goals; 2) initiating action towards these goals; 3) reflecting on and regulating progress towards these goals and 4) a belief in self-efficacy. The fourth element is recognised as underpinning the first three and demonstrates the importance of students’ sense of self belief. This can be facilitated largely by educators as we provide tools for students and prove to them that they can do things and that their actions can make a difference.  

 

The founding of The Kindred Project 

At Sotogrande International School we strive to empower student agency. In 2010, through a deep process of reflection, we questioned the impact of the funds raised through events and in turn, the learning processes provided for our students. We looked into models that would enhance our social impact, but what intrigued us most was, how this would look if it were completely student-lead? This inspired the birth of The Kindred Project, or ‘KP’ – our student-lead NGO. It has been designed as a guarantor that student-led action has a real positive impact in the communities we work with, creating win-win situations for all involved. KP achieves this by using tried and tested models implemented by international development organizations, which allow for the monitoring of activities and funds, as well as evaluation. This enables action that, as a response to a genuine need, is mindful, appropriate, and sustainable. For our students, it’s all about experiential learning. In line with our partners’ needs, students come up with ideas, projects, inventions and products which help to address social or environmental issues. We then provide the platform for these dreams to become reality through our framework of student entrepreneurship. To deepen the learning and social impact, we offer students the opportunity to make direct connections by participating on incredible expeditions to our partners spanning over 4 continents. 

 

What does this really look like? 

We facilitate the majority of this learning and many of these experiences through the KP Club. This is an after school club that runs three times a week and currently engages over 70 students. Through structured but flexible and creative systems, students take the lead on all aspects of the projects from the initial ideas, to the running of an event or development of a product.

The students have complete control, coupled with careful guidance, and what they produce is truly outstanding. An example of one project is the Little Suns project, started by Max G, aged 15. Through curricular connections, Max understood that the community of one of our partners in Nabugabo, Uganda, struggle to carry out daily tasks after sunset without electricity. He had the idea to provide solar lamps to the people of Nabugabo. He researched, fundraised and sourced 60 Little Suns solar lamps which he had delivered to our school, ready to be taken on our next expedition to Uganda. These solar lamps were distributed amongst the community. Seeing the huge impact his project had had on people’s lives, Max was inspired to continue raising funds for more lamps and applied to take part in the next expedition to see it first-hand. His reaction on the ground in Uganda was profound and life shaping. However, KP also goes further than KP Club. The values, morals and passion of KP are also sewn into the curriculum at Sotogrande International School. Class projects begin in our youngest years and continue up through the school, with many students focusing their community and personal projects on addressing social and/or environmental issues, giving back to the community and cultural exchanges.  

Expeditions are an essential part of KP as they provide the rawest, realest experiential learning possible. They accommodate the opportunity for experiences of human connection and personal realisation, as well as skill development and intercultural understanding. The expeditions include working with our partners in Spain, Morocco, Uganda and Ecuador, and this summer saw our first expedition to the Himalayas. All of these trips are unique, with an individual sense of purpose that provide life shaping opportunities for our students, as well as the communities we work with.  

 

What does students finding their own GPS look like? 

For most students, experiential learning is what they remember. It’s most likely through experiential learning that they have their ´lightbulb moment´. It causes them to understand what is important to them, and that alone, can be life shaping. One example of a student experiencing this is Enola G, aged 16, who tells us “Through hands-on work in the community of Nabugabo, I realised that I am driven by helping others, and suddenly my career path became very clear. The day I came back from the trip, I was confident about studying politics and international relations at university, with the intention of making a difference for those who need it the most.” 

Another student, Nele W, aged 17, reflects “this expedition was completely different to anything I have ever experienced before. Following this trip I have come to the conclusion that anyone can make a difference. Over the coming months and years I will always continue to reflect on this journey. I have learned that when you take action by following what you love doing, you really develop a life-long passion.” 

These are just some examples of how students have been personally impacted after finding their GPS through experiential learning on one of our expeditions. Flora S, aged 17, reflects on her work with KP as she prepares to move on to higher education and summarises the importance of giving students opportunities to find their GPS’s. “What I have learnt, and what I continue to learn, can be taken with me wherever I go; it is a gift that I didn’t even realise I was being handed as I embarked on all those years of challenges and adventures. And it is one I will cherish for life.” 

 

And how can you replicate this in your school? 

There are three main factors in replicating this model within a school; passionate people, human connections and space for student agency. There are passionate people in every school, and bringing them together will help create the right environment for this type of model to flourish. This includes both staff and students.  

Another key factor in making this model sustainable is the human element. Human connection is what really fuels these projects and programs to run successfully. Making the programs real through relationships is invaluable. If this cannot be achieved through partnerships, human connections between staff and students can also evoke emotion. The key emotion to awaken through these projects is empowerment. Once the students feel empowered, their investment in the projects climbs, as does their self-esteem.  

Facilitating space for student agency is also imperative. Having a ‘yes’ culture, which is followed up with assistance, guidance and reflection is where the key lies. Letting them direct the project, event or idea is an essential factor in the development of their sense of agency. Being open-minded and allowing the roles to be reversed to some extent from student to teacher helps the opening up of projects and allows the model to run. The thing to remember above all else is that our youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the changemakers of today. 

 

Bibliography: 

Poon, J. (2018). Part 1: What Do You Mean When You Say “Student Agency”? [online] Education Reimagined https://education-reimagined.org/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-student-agency/ [Accessed 14th March 2020] 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jade has worked in Boarding schools for a number of yearsand developed a passion for giving students real-world experiences and helping them to navigate their path in life. She is currently Deputy Housemistress at Sotogrande International School and combines this with working as an Educational Specialist at The Kindred Project. Having been on leadership teams on expeditions to Uganda and Ecuador, and through running the KP Club, she has seen first hand the life-shaping impacts discussed in this article.