How to Engage Today’s Learners — and Tomorrow’s Workers

Headed to FETC this week in Orlando? You can see Tara take part in two panel discussions,  Increasing Community Engagement with Technology: Why and How It’s Done (Thursday, 12 – 12:40 pm) and Generation-Savvy Leadership: Tapping Into Teachers’ and Learners’ Skills and Interests (Thursday, 1-1:40 pm).

by Tara Subramaniam

In a world where the customer is always right, students, essentially the customers of the education system, are often not being listened to. Administrative decisions are frequently driven by mandates of the government (federal or local). Sometimes the teachers are included, but rarely are students consulted. The student-run nonprofit Student Voice was born out of this desire to give students a voice within a system theoretically designed to help them succeed.

A study by the Quaglia Institute showed that increasing student engagement in schools has a direct correlation with higher grades and lower drop-out rates. In turn, when more students stay in school, a higher percentage of students move on to higher education, contributing to a more educated workforce that is better equipped to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Student Voice aims to help high school students find their voice and provide them with the tools and resources to enact change on the issues that matter most to them. We have found that the best way to ensure high student engagement is to meet them where they are and bring them into the conversation.

Recently, Student Voice embarked on a nationwide tour, hosting roundtables in 50 different cities. The first question we asked these students was to tell us something about their school that the teachers and administrators probably didn’t know. Suddenly, we were exposed to a whole slew of issues and concerns that, far from not being addressed, were not even on the radar of those making the decisions. This is only one example of the importance of including student voice in schools.

Giving students opportunities to have their voices heard does not have to be limited to one classroom. The Superintendent for Pittsburgh Public Schools is working to start a Student Advisory Council and Philadelphia’s mayor has long had a youth commission. Both are instances of the powers that be reaching out to give students a seat at the table in the rooms where the decisions are being made. It’s a good first step.

Allowing students to take control of some of their learning within the classroom can be the first step towards empowering them to speak up on bigger issues they’ve noticed that impact their daily lives. Listen to students. You may be surprised by how much they have to say.

Note: Tara Subramaniam will be presenting at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) which runs from January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida.