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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Only 46% of Students Feel Valued in Their School

By Peter DeWitt — January 26, 2016 3 min read
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What is your aspiration as a teacher?

What about as a leader? Do you have one?

What if a student walked up to you and asked if you knew their aspiration...would you know it?

As a teacher I’m not so sure I knew the aspirations of all of my students. Who has the time for all of that? We have so much curriculum to get to, tests to score, and grades to give. Unfortunately, the more we try to shove at them, the more they believe we don’t understand them at all. Students want to know their teachers and leaders understand them.

In a student voice survey (Quaglia & Corso) of more than 66,000 students in grades 6 through 12, some pretty eye-opening information was provided.

  • “47% of students felt that they had a voice in their school
  • 52% of students said that teachers are willing to learn from them
  • 50% of students said they knew the goals that their school was working on this year”

When it came to self-worth:

  • “46% of students felt that they were a valued member of their school community
  • 51% thought their teacher would care if they were absent
  • 60% answered that they were proud of their school.”

And finally, when it came to engagement:

  • “43% of students said school was boring
  • 44% of students said their classes help them understand what is happening in their every day life, and...
  • 66% said they feel comfortable asking questions in their classes.”

We know, by the work of John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, that teacher-student relationships can have an effect size of .72, which is nearly double the hinge point. In Hattie’s work, the hinge point means that students can receive a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. Unfortunately, it seems that by looking at the work of Quaglia that not all teacher-student relationships are strong.

It takes dialogue to make that happen.

Quaglia is someone I work with doing student voice work, and our team talks a lot about the aspirations of students. Aspirations are the dreaming and doing of our students. According to Quaglia and Corso, we have students that are in the hibernation stage, which means that they put forth little effort and have no positive goals. There are students in the perspiration stage who are working really hard but not sure what they are working toward, and students in the imagination stage who have goals but have little idea of how to meet those goals. Finally, there are students in the aspiration stage, and they have positive goals and know how to get there.

When it comes to aspirations I often wonder if we help students work toward their goals, or whether they are always forced to work toward the aspirations we have for them. At a very young age, due to a lot of circumstances such as testing, accountability and our own expectations, we seem to spend time setting aspirations for our students, which is one of the reasons why Quaglia and Corso’s student surveys show the results they do.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the work of Russ Quaglia, John Hattie or the research on school climate, we know that when students feel valued by their teachers and peers, they will be more engaged in school. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we engage all students.

All students should have their moment where they feel listened to, respected for their voice, and chosen for something they never thought possible but we helped them achieve. It reminds me of the work of David Whyte from Crossing the Unknown Sea. Whyte wrote,

Everyone should have at least one time in their life when they feel chosen, wanted, held up for some kind of special treatment. The times are rare, life is short, others have only a given amount of real need and generosity. It is good to be philosophical when we are not chosen, but it is a vital, precious, almost scintillating thing to be young, to be excited, to be wanted specifically for some task, and to feel a possible dream is on the edge of fulfillment. It is vital for there to be an experience of morning in our lives and for this experience to be called on in the memory of other, more difficult mornings to come. There is no mercy in this world if at least once in our lives we do not feel the privilege of being wanted where we also want to be wanted."

In the End
Engaging students so they feel they have a voice is easier than you may think. It means that we have to stand at the door and say hello to them...using their name...because students do not think we know their name. It means using cooperative groups and having dialogue with those groups. It means doing school-wide surveys where we get their feedback and make changes according to that feedback, because if nothing changes after a survey...why do it?

Quaglia and Corso are updating the survey from a couple of years ago and have collected the feedback of over 140,000 students and they see little change in the updated answers from those above. Isn’t it time we not only talk about student voice, but value it too?

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of Tookapic.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.