Giving Students Voice: Making sure students are part of the collective impact movement

Topics: Community Partnerships

By Marina Hopkins.

StrivePartnership is dedicated to improving student education opportunities, but realized that student voice wasn't part of the process. That's changing.StrivePartnership, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, was founded on the idea that the effect of many working together is stronger than many people and groups working individually. We are comprised of leaders from the education, business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic, and faith communities who believe in the importance of education and the impact of working together to change the system of education for every child, from cradle to career.

Despite our dedication to improving education opportunities for students, we’ve becoming increasingly aware of two important voices missing from our work: students and parents. We reached out to Design Impact, a social innovation nonprofit that designs inclusive and creative approaches to complicated social problems using human centered design, to help us to solve this problem.

Engaging students in their learning

We’ve worked closely with Covington Independent Public Schools since StrivePartnership started more than 10 years ago, but the focus has always been more on a district leadership level rather than focused on including student voice. Last year, we learned that the Superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools, Alvin Garrison, had organized a Student Advisory Council, and we knew we’d found a starting point for change.

During our work with Covington around its strategic plan, we met with members of the student leadership advisory council to get their input. One of the plan’s “belief statements,” Student Responsibility for Learning: Our students must be active participants in their educational experiences, particularly sparked conversation.

What does “active” mean? What does that look and feel like through the lens of a student or parent?

With the superintendent’s support and the leadership of Scott Hornblower, principal of Holmes High School, we embarked on this journey of discovery to answer the question: “How Might Students be engaged in their own learning?” We were intentional about including the voice of students and parents in exploring the question.

We engaged 14 Student Advisory Council members through interviews and focus groups to collect their stories of engaged learning inside and outside the classroom. Insights were gleaned and themes emerged, which lead to three “How Might We…” questions:

  1. How might we amplify student voice?
  2. How might we make learning interactive and experiential?
  3. How might we encourage stronger teacher/student relationships?

In the spirit of co-creation, StrivePartnership and Holmes High School hosted two ideation sessions. We asked for each student to invite a fellow student who was not a part of the Student Advisory Council. The principal invited parents and teachers. Ultimately, we had 35 people in the discussion and more than half of them were students.

Ten concepts emerged during our discussions and, after sharing from the students to the teaching staff, we narrowed the list to three priority items using a voting process: Shake up Scheduling, Other Classes, and Wall of Fame. It was an empowering time for the students and an inspiring moment for Principal Hornblower, who loves to be innovative.

“We cannot focus energy entirely on adults, those in power; we will lose sight of the students,” he said. “At the same time, we have to encourage teachers to try things they may not believe they can.”

Because of this openness to change and progress, there was buy-in and trust among all of the partners and, most importantly, students’ voices were elevated.

StrivePartnership’s work at Holmes High School is now successfully incorporating student voice. This is due in part to leadership support from Principal Hornblower, but also to the students who stepped up to the opportunity. This collaborative effort has sparked positive change, including better communication between students and school leadership and implementation of ideas that are jointly formed and elevated as important.

By choosing to include student voice in the decision-making and improvement process at Holmes High School, students can now own their learning.