If you do not follow Deidre Roemer, you should.
Deidre has a must-read blog for educators. She is an incredible leader and learner that is creating some fantastic opportunities with and for her school team. Any leader is only as good as the people they surround themselves with, and her team at her every level in the West Allis school district is focused on creating incredible opportunities for every student they serve. It has been inspiring to watch in-person.
I wrote this about the experience of that day:
Listening to students who “struggled” in the traditional setting of school (that were now all flourishing in new environments) is something we need to do more often, but listening is only a first step. When we receive the feedback, what will we do differently because of it, and how will the students know?
Of course, as any school or district, they have made incredible strides but always have opportunities to grow. But in my visits with them, one thing that has always stuck out to me was the focus on empowering students in purposeful ways on professional learning days. In February of 2020, I spent two days with the group. On both days, they had a group of students and teachers who had a “coffee shop” where students would sell, provide, and serve staff hot beverages at the start of the day. As I do not drink regular coffee, I decide to pay it forward and purchase coffee for a group of teachers and received this excellent message from a student:
— George Couros (@gcouros) February 18, 2020
On the second of the two professional learning days, they started the day off with an hour for teachers to visit student entrepreneurial projects that were on display in the school. It was amazing to see the excitement from students but also the piqued interest of the educators that were perusing the projects. It was inspiring to see the interactions.
As I thought about the authentic student empowerment that I witnessed on these days, I thought about three benefits that this type of opportunity had for both staff and students.
1. It gives students a chance to shine their light to an authentic audience.
The students with the “coffee shop” had been running this service in their school for a while, but to connect with a new group of people who may not have been “used to” seeing this, seemed to provide “light bulb” moments and excitement for students to see how this opportunity could expand past their everyday school experience. As I walked into the building, students were waiting at the door with excitement to welcome people to their experience. It was inspiring to watch.
This leads to the next point.
2. It inspires new ideas for staff and students.
Educators having the opportunities to learn from other educators is the best professional learning possible. Yet, “hearing about” ideas, versus seeing these opportunities through the eyes of students brings that learning to an entirely different level. I was able to catch some conversations from teachers discussing ways that they could bring in, tweak, and create opportunities for their schools. The excitement from the students inspired ideas in the staff.
3. It reminds us of why we do what we do.
To see the incredible things that happen in your school or district through the eyes of students reminds us of our impact on kids, and the impact our colleagues have on students, that sometimes can get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of school. I saw one student in August in this district who was openly not excited about school. I saw this same student in FEBRUARY with a sense of pride and purpose in what he was doing today. That was because of the opportunities teachers provided to do something meaningful in the eyes of that student. That was powerful.
In “Innovate Inside the Box,” I shared the following quote on the importance of creating opportunities for students to lead TODAY in our schools:
Kudos to the entire West Allis team for inspiring my learning and growth through the eyes and experiences of your students. It was incredible to see.