My View

Student Voice: Are You Really Listening?
By KEVIN GODDEN/School Administrator, June 2020

I MADE A COMMITTMENT earlier this year to have focused meetings on a monthly basis with students in our secondary schools as an integral part of my school visits. I am doing so because it models the importance of engaging students and I gain valuable insight into whether our schools are working for them. 

One recent meeting was with about 10 seniors at our school district’s alternate school, Bakerview Centre for Learning. (As an aside, I find it curious that we use the term “alternate” to describe the things that go on in this school. The students make a strong case that their experiences are anything but alternate.)

Adult Connections

I was genuinely moved by the students’ responses to my question about what makes their school so special. They spoke effusively about their school, the adults who work there and the experiences they have had. Among the more pointed comments were these:

»“We have a great connection to the staff here.”
»"They teach us how to take responsibility for our actions.”
»“I have choices about how, when and where I learn.”
»“People here sincerely care about us. We would hate to disappoint them.”
»“I am respected.”
»“They use different ways of teaching to help us be successful.”

The students spoke at length about the academic and emotional support they receive from the staff, as well as from a myriad of community agencies such as the medical clinic and counseling services affiliated with the school. It was overwhelming for me to hear, and I wish some of their teachers could have been in the room to witness how their students felt about them and the conditions they created for them to be successful.

The students described their school as a community. Someone mentioned that the school’s culinary program allows them to cook lunch for each other every day, and the group spontaneously erupted in applause.

I followed up with a question about what might make their school even better. Among their thoughtful and heartfelt responses, the primary concern had to do with physical activity and sports. While they appreciated the weight gym in their school, they also wished for more opportunities to play a wider range of sports. Some expressed a desire to have better access to some elective options and career programs that were available to other students in the district. They spoke about having greater access to experiential learning opportunities in the community.

Adults Who Care

Perhaps the most poignant part of our conversation was prompted by this question: “Can you name three adults who care about you?” Every student at the table immediately raised his or her hand. Several said that this was the main difference between their current and former schools. Again, I wished the staff members were present to hear how warmly the students spoke about them.

As the conversation wound down, I was asked what I was going to do with the information they shared. I told them that I would share what I learned with my colleagues and hopefully use it to help guide our mission to create more life-changing experiences for students.

The students expressed sincere appreciation that I would make time to hear their perspectives. This meeting was hands down the best part of my work week.

KEVIN GODDEN is superintendent of the Abbotsford School District in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Twitter: @KevinGodden1. This column is adapted from the author’s blog.