Starting a Discussion On Empowering Student Changemakers

After a few weeks of planning with my friend Sara from the Swivl team, I was ready to open my “space”. Not a Twitter space, but my space. No no THAT Myspace, but a Skilled.Space”. What is Skilled.Space? The team at Swivl calls it “Live conversation spaces that propel students and teachers forward”.

Already five minutes into the conversation I could feel ourselves being propelled to the outer reaches of our topic. We were all gathered in our little corner of the internet to discuss empowering students as changemakers. Hawaiʻi (Oʻahu, and Hawaiʻi Island), California, the UK, Canada, and the Mid-Western United States were all gathered together, and everyone was bringing their full self to the conversation.

Quickly our conversation evolved into a back and forth with each teacher taking turns sharing about what happens when students bring their energy into the classroom. “Things go to another level”, one teacher noted. Someone else jumped in that in their social studies curriculum they de-emphasize the need to memorize content and instead push students to gain content knowledge through learning how to connect with their communities.

This prompted another share about how they use student input to review the school’s rules for behavior. Students rewrite the school “behavior charter” in their own language through collaboration and critical thinking. In this process, students are able to present their views to the admin and have the policies updated. I quickly made a note as they shared enthusiastically; “There is something very raw, pure, authentic, about letting those values and routines live the way they actually describe it, and makes it unique, it makes authentic. It really pops out at you because you can see it was really written by kids”.

As I stopped to breathe and take in the depth of thought being delivered in this digital space I was in awe. Here teachers were sharing freely from their heart, from their experience, from the very depths of what they believed as educators. I knew I had tapped into something.

Over the next 45 minutes, each participant shared stories about how they approach their classroom as a place where students can exhibit agency over their learning experience. A principal at a K-5 school went into detail about how students are involved in all aspects of life at their school from what clubs they form, to what they do for spirit week, to how they structure teams in their classroom. From this, we all converged around the idea that the classroom is the perfect place to start small. Students can best discover their own voice as changemakers in the intimacy of their small cohort of peers. “Starting smaller is better!” a district area teacher chimed in.

Ideas were being blasted through the galaxy (sorry I’m a little late on the space metaphors so had to slip one in) until our conversation concluded with some actionable items for each other to consider. One teacher related how they renamed their student council the “student action leadership team” in order to increase engagement. Another teacher shared the Twitter handle of an educator who had a blueprint for tapping into your PLN on social media to make a list of subject area experts for students to connect with to invite into the classroom for video chats.

The hour came to a close and I felt a great sense of gratitude for this group of educators who took time out of their Sunday to engage with each other. I felt a relationship with this group that I wouldn’t have gotten in a Twitter thread or even at a conference session. The conversation was real, without judgment, and full of the honest desire to offer our experience as a way to potentially help a fellow colleague.

I am looking forward to our next discussion on Sunday, and who knows where the conversation will go on “empowering student changemakers”. I know I’ll post on Twitter about it, and I’ll share some articles or maybe a podcast to spark some insights. But at the end of the day, it is our relationships that will further drive the conversation. And it is in those conversations where the magic happens.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation on “Empowering Student Changemakers” start a free account at Skilled.Space and join us on September 26 and then every other Sunday at 3 pm Eastern time. Follow me on Twitter @daganbernstein to get a link to our next conversation.