Student Voice and Rocking the School Library

March 15, 2018

I have been thinking a lot lately about student voice.  When to listen? What to ask? How to hear it? Our students are our ‘raison d’etre’ yet they are often the last constituent group we listen to and dialogue with.  As part of the recent strategic plan, we held focus groups with faculty, parents, grandparents, board members, and other invested members of our extended community; however, we did not hear from the children.  I have been looking at this practice and considering how, if at all, we can gain knowledge and understanding about our school and community from those who we serve each day on the front lines – the children.

It is not that I or the faculty have not listened to kids this year.  We have. We have found places for our students to have a voice and for their voice to be heard.  School is an opportunity for our children to practice voicing their opinions and concerns, their wants and desires, their needs and perceived needs of others.  Student Council is a place for this to happen.

Our extremely  successful and popular Purim staff/student basketball game was thought of by the Student Council and executed through a Student Council and Morah Janice collaboration.  The student body was wonderfully excited by the end result. More recently, the Grade 6 class respectfully voiced their desire for an extension in their boundary for their off campus lunch.  Their voice was heard and they have risen to the responsibility of ensuring they are back to class on-time and ready to learn. But still, I wonder if there is a way to use student voice to make decisions that have a more profound impact on the student experience? I believe there is.

Our library has undergone a transformative change this year.  A room that was filled with books with little intentional placement has been purged and, with tremendous time and effort by faculty and volunteers, has become a small collection that aligns with our school values.  It is now time to rebuild, and growing the collection seems to be a meaningful place to listen to student voice. What do our kids want in the library? How can we as professionals align their wants with our intentions of a library that will meet our school’s values of curiosity, diversity and community for the next many years?  

The Grade 5 class, alongside Morah Jaime, has taken on the project of using their mathematical knowledge of data management to assess the collection and make appropriate recommendations for categories and titles of books.  What is so incredible about this project is that it allows the students to apply their mathematical understandings and skills in an authentic situation and it gives space for genuine and appropriate use of student voice to affect important decision-making for the whole school.  

What has added to the students’ excitement is the knowledge that their recommendations can become a reality because of the Rockapalooza parent party, where all raised funds will go directly to the library.  Our students are both motivated and engaged in authentic math, our library collection will have a real student stamp on it and our community is coming together to raise the funds, ensuring the hard work that has been put into the library project this year can be completed in time for next year.  This is a win win situation!

I am excited to see what recommendations the Grade 5 students bring me.  I am excited to see what our library can become. I am excited by the idea that authentic learning and student voice are coming together to improve our school community in a long-lasting and impactful way.  The Dalai Lama was famous for saying: When you talk you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen you may learn something new.  I can’t wait to slow down and listen to our students so that I can learn something new about the direction for our school library collection.