Since last Tuesday I’ve been in Ruskin, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Working with Melissa Sherwood, a science teacher who I met through Earth Force, I have facilitated 15 workshops for almost 250 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students at Cypress Creek Elementary, the entire staff at the school, and a group of Earth Force teachers from throughout the Tampa-area.
Melissa initially invited me out last fall, after I presented at an Earth Force institute in suburban DC. After my presentation on SoundOut and the Cycle of Engagement Melissa was determined to get me to her school. She got me good.
I started pretty rapidly, first leading a staff training session for 50 adults. That was pretty exciting, with teachers, the school administration, and support staff examining the meaningful student involvement frameworks, and then exploring their own experiences with student voice as students and as teachers. So many exciting conversations happened, and I had a good feeling going into the week.
Almost like student voice bulldozers, Melissa led me throughout the school and into so many classrooms. Students shared their ideas and perspectives about what is great in their school and what needs to change right away (translated: what sucks). There was a lot of feedback about teacher personalities, classroom management skills, and teaching habits. Then I had students examine their ideas about what the perfect school would look like.
I have a lot of critical concern about their perspectives, but what this particular stint* reminded me of is the necessity of allowing students the space to release, meaning that they sometimes just need to “dump.” While its true that students do have valuable and powerful perspectives and ideas about what needs to happen and change in schools, it is also true that often they simply need to be able to just get their voices out – especially the first time its been intentionally engaged in that way. For many students at Cypress Creek, this was the first time any adult ever asked what they thought about school – particularly the low-income, migrant, and bilingual students in these classes. The numbers of Walmarts, McDonalds, and video games in their “dream schools” does cause me pause… but that’s for a different post.
The adults’ reception to the presentations was luke warm, as suspected. Melissa will definitely have her work cut out for her, particularly if anyone “bites” and wants more information or help engaging students in their classrooms. However, we keep churning out the butter, so folks like Melissa aren’t standing alone in this effort.
Thanks to Melissa, Cypress Creek, and all the great folks I met down here for your commitment – and let me know if there’s anything we can do to keep supporting you.