Education Opinion

Elevating Student Voice Beyond the Walkouts (Part 2)

By Learning Is Social & Emotional Contributor — May 17, 2018 3 min read

Pam Moran and Debbie Collins are the superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively, of Albemarle County Public Schools (Va.), near the city of Charlottesville. The Learning is Social and Emotional team spoke with Moran and Collins about how the district is approaching student agency and voice, and how it connects with their ongoing work to support students’ social, emotional, and academic development. This is part two of that conversation. Read part 1 here.

4. What challenges has ACPS faced in implementing this work?

Pam: Funding is an obvious challenge that all educators face to some extent. During the recession, there was a lot of pressure on us to figure out how to trim our budgets. And responsive classrooms, for example, are not an inexpensive approach. We’re talking about training for all our teachers. So one of the things we had to do was figure out how to keep funding in place to sustain our commitment to that professional development work, and it wasn’t easy.

Debbie: We did have to make sacrifices during the recession to keep our social and emotional focus in place. We gave up key central office personnel and key professional development to ensure that professional learning around things like Responsive Classroom continued. But we felt it was so important that we couldn’t back off. To sell that trade-off to teachers, we then had to make sure that they understood the “why,” because effective social and emotional development happens throughout the school day, not just as a tack-on.

Pam: The other challenge is that there are people who see social and emotional learning as being “touchy-feely” and a waste of time. Part of developing social and emotional awareness and decision making is learning how to make choices. So we very purposely have built in opportunities for kids to have dialogue and disagree with one another, and that kind of challenges the old model of teaching where the teacher was always right and it was a more controlled environment.

Debbie: Seminars are a great example. On one hand, we think students should have the seminar experience in high school. On the other, there’s not much time to incorporate it. Our freshman seminar course started competing with electives and our values began to clash. I think in those cases, you have to step back from the short-term concerns and think about the long-term payoff. We have our challenges, but what we all want is that every child gets what they need to be successful. And I don’t think you can do that by isolating social and emotional learning from academics or from physical health. We think they’re all important.

5. What advice do you have for other districts who are looking for ways to elevate student voice and agency?

Debbie: Get students in the room and talk to them! If you just ask a couple questions and then listen, they’ll tell you which way to go.

Pam: When we asked our student panel what they wanted in their teachers, they didn’t say “I want a teacher who’s good at math.” They said things like, “I want a teacher who cares.” “I want a teacher who likes to smile.” “I want a teacher who’s not always by the book.” They want to know their teachers; they want teachers who take an interest in them.

Debbie: When teachers hear that, it changes their heart. It brings you back to why you went into this work. That part of you that’s always hopeful. Students do that in a way that an administrator could never do.

Pam: Sometimes our students challenge us, because they don’t always say what we want to hear. But if we remain open, we can learn things from our children, whether they’re 18 or 11 or 5. Our core value is our young people. Not because of who they’ll be, but because of who they are.

Photos, from top: Photo of Albemarle County Public Schools students (courtesy of ACPS), Photo of Debbie Collins (courtesy of ACPS)

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Learning Is Social & Emotional are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read