8 MUST-READS FOR EDUCATORS ON STUDENT VOICE
"Re(in)forming the Conversations: Student Position, Power, and Voice in Teacher Education," by Alison Cook-Sather
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too, by Chris Emdin
"Reality Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, Truth, and Distortions," by Chris Emdin
"Student Consulting: Disrupting Student-Teacher Hierarchies," by Ben Sanoff et al.
"Student Voice: Tapping the Potential of Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor," by Catherine Wallach et al.
"Increasing Student Voice and Moving Toward Youth Leadership," by Dana Mitra
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
"The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children," by Lisa Delpit
"I never have pictured myself being a leader or taking charge in a group project, but I would really like to build up these skills." — Ana, 8th grade
Ana is a quiet 8th grader at High Tech Middle Chula Vista, a middle school situated just a few miles from the Mexico border in Chula Vista, California. Her application to become a Student Consultant, above, was heartfelt and honest. Ana, who I now know offers honest critique and asks courageous questions to push teachers' thinking, needed a space designed for her voice to fill. These spaces certainly arise within the classroom — directing a film or leading a group, perhaps — but without purposeful design, they do not challenge the existing classroom hierarchy where the teacher is the true boss. Student Consulting is a structure that intentionally disrupts this hierarchy, offering students the realization that they already have the knowledge and experience to be leaders.
"CoGenerative Dialogue [is] Asking Youth to cogenerate ideas about improving instruction and giving them the opportunity to critique the instruction." — Chris Emdin, "Reality Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, Truth, and Distortions"
Lisa Delpit, in her article "Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator," writes, “I wonder how many teachers realize the verbal creativity and fluency black kids display every day on the playgrounds of America as they devise new insults, new rope-jumping chants and new cheers” (2007, p. 183). Similarly, I wonder how many teachers realize that student hallway conversations about what projects are working, what activities they hate, and how they would change their daily experiences are seeds of self-advocacy and leadership sprouting in the margins of education. We want our Student Consulting program at High Tech Middle Chula Vista to be a garden.
We want to support students in advocating for the unique experiences they need, allowing them to be leaders in their own education and furthering equity in the classroom. In an article entitled, "Re(in)forming the Conversation: Student Position, Power, and Voice in Teacher Education," Alison Cook-Sather discusses the value of "bringing into direct dialogue those preparing to teach with those who are taught, and [...] altering the power dynamics that usually inform that teacher/student relationship" (Cook-Sather, 2002, p. 21). Cook-Sather goes on to describe a student coaching program for pre-service teachers. Chris Emdin, author of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood ... and the Rest of Y'all Too, describes a similar structure called "cogenerative dialogues," where teachers and students partner to critique and improve instruction. If the National Equity Project's assertion that "people can solve their own problems. Both the problems and the solutions reside within communities and systems" is true, we will only improve education in this way — by including the wisdom of all stakeholders.
"We believe people can solve their own problems. Both the problems AND the solutions reside within communities and systems." — National Equity Project
The idea that disrupting power dynamics is critical to achieving equity and liberation is also central in the work of Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (2010), which notes that "leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people — they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress." Assuming that we can achieve equity without providing support and opportunities for students to share what they need is myopic at best, and at worst can inflict “soul wounds” on children resulting in power struggles and disillusionment with education in general (Emdin, 2016, p. 27). For this reason, student voices and experiences must be included in educators' work toward liberty and justice for all.