Educators have been called upon to transform their teaching styles and create online learning environments. Parents and guardians have been called upon to assume the in-person roles of classroom managers, tutors, cafeteria workers, nurses, and counselors while continuing to juggle myriad other responsibilities.
School communities have been called upon to provide all stakeholders with guidance, training and support in this new educational mode. In the midst of this shift, it is essential that we also call upon our greatest resource in schools: the students.
As educators, we have a well-meaning and inherent nature to “fix” things. Yet that approach fails to capitalise on the potential of students, who may have more to offer now than ever before! Students should be asked to do more than log in; they should be asked to help pave the way forward.
Students of all ages are undoubtedly taking on a plethora of new challenges. Many are learning to take online classes for the first time. Students with younger siblings are assuming new full-time roles at home, such as tutors or babysitters. Many students are wrestling with levels of anxiety, lack of motivation, and time management issues. And many students are struggling with the realisation that they cannot socialise with their friends the way they used to.
As we adjust to our new realities, it is important to acknowledge and address the stressful realities, and at the same time not view students as victims, or as problems to be fixed.
Instead, we need to look at students as the potential and proceed with them as partners. Rather than “fix” things for students, we need to engage them in decision making. We need to learn with them what will work for them as they navigate through this transition.
Students are curious and innovative; they are keenly equipped to lead us into the world of online learning. We must capitalize on students’ skills, ingenuity, and enthusiasm in our quest to offer the best learning possible for all students.
As students continue to follow social distancing guidelines, we must work with them to ensure that they do not fall into the pitfall of being passive learners at home. We must challenge students to put their voices into action, to work and think creatively, and to recognise the many ways that they can contribute to their learning community.
The following is a call to action to foster student voice that you can help facilitate:
- Teach the Teachers! Most students are far more adept at technology than many of their teachers. They were practically born with technological and social media literacy. Give students a platform to share their knowledge with teachers! How amazing would it be to have professional development for teachers regarding online learning directed by the students? This would create not only meaningful learning for educators but an opportunity for students to use their voices and take greater ownership of their learning. The time for students to teach the teachers is long overdue, and now is an incredibly meaningful time to embrace this.
- Take Their Temperature—Often. While thermometers (and toilet paper!) are scarce these days, we are asking you to pay attention to a different kind of temperature: the “temperature” of the class. Provide opportunities for students to share their perspectives about what is working well and what is not. Let their voices become loud and clear. What is motivating students to get online? What is holding them back? How can online classes be more engaging? What can you do differently as a teacher to improve learning? What can students do to ensure greater participation from themselves and their peers? What platforms do students find most effective for peer collaboration? It is essential to invite, reflect on, and respond to students’ voices on a regular basis. Taking the temperature of a class will lead to a healthier learning environment. No thermometer required!
- Have a Picnic. Social distancing is about physical distancing, not personal isolation. While there is no longer a shared physical classroom space, the relationships between teachers and students should not be neglected. Work with students to create opportunities for the entire class to engage and converse with one another. Host a virtual potluck lunch with the class once a week. Encourage students to eat during online lessons, with the caveat that they need to share their recipe with the class! When school returns to normal again, host the traditional in-person potluck in your classroom. Meanwhile, provide students with regular opportunities to socially interact via their devices. It is important to allow them to connect with one another at a time when everything feels so distant.
- Extend a Virtual Hand to Others. Extreme changes in routine can be emotionally, socially, and personally challenging for everyone. Students and educators should not experience these educational shifts alone! Students can take responsibility for their community’s mental health by checking in on their peers, their teachers, and their families. It is critical that students extend a virtual hand to those around them. Students can offer peer tutoring, a safe space to talk with their peers, or opportunities to play online games with classmates and teachers. Challenge students to think about what would benefit the good of the whole and how they can make a difference in a way that is innovative and safe. Students have a unique ability to provide virtual hugs while they are physically apart from one another. Create opportunities for these connections.
- Be a Super Hero. What we are all going through can generate a lot of fear and uncertainty. When you add the inherent pressure of being a student, one may feel inclined to take a step back and retreat. Be gracious and understanding of those who need to temporarily pause and catch their breath, while at the same time supporting the emergence of our superheroes! Students need to be solution and action oriented. Encourage students to unleash their super powers of compassion, insight, and inspiration to help others around them. Today’s superheroes have a VOICE and are not afraid to use it for the good of others. We are calling for students to rise to the occasion and for teachers to foster, encourage, and inspire them along the way.
In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, it is critical that we empower students to stand up and utilize their voices and unique skill sets as tools for unity, support, encouragement, and growth. There are many aspects of the pandemic that are out of our control. However, there are ample opportunities for students to rise to the occasion and help lead us forward—to fully engage in learning, to be a helping hand for others, and to enhance their new online learning communities. This is a moment like no other. The question is, how will you and your students define it?