Why We Need Students On School Improvement Teams

February 4, 2022 by highlander

One of our CRSP-Pathways schools is exploring new ways to actively involve students in their School Improvement Team (SIT). In this instance, the SIT consists of students, teachers, building leaders, a district administrator, and parents.

Student reflections on an identified problem

Student government presidents and vice presidents from each grade attended a recent SIT data meeting. They reviewed responses to two key questions on Highlander Institute’s Student Experience Survey (SES):

Item 1: “My teacher is glad that I’m their student”
Item 2: “In this class I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions”

In a breakout group, students reflected on the lower scores noted by students receiving Special Education and Multilingual Learners (MLLs) on these items. What potential causes could be at the root of this gap? Reflecting through the lens of their own lived experiences, the students elevated numerous insights during their discussion:

  • Students with IEPs and MLLs might not have enough confidence to share their thoughts because they fear judgment. If they feel more comfortable they might have more confidence.
  • They need to have a bond with other classmates so it feels like a family.
  • Students appreciate when teachers notice them or something positive they do, and they recognize when students aren’t treated equitably.
  • Sometimes students may give up if they feel like a teacher isn’t worried about them.
  • Students with IEPs may be nervous to share because they believe their ideas aren’t important enough.
  • Students from these groups may feel singled out and invisible.

Student-generated strategies

When the breakout groups reconvened, the student group volunteered to share out first to the entire SIT. This opened a space of collective ownership that set the stage for all members to be vulnerable and reflect more deeply on the data. The students shared their own experiences first. Then, they suggested how both students and teachers could support students with different learning identities:

  1. Lead and participate in activities to build trust in our classroom.
  2. Take the time to learn more about the students in our classroom.
  3. Share deep thoughts in community circles to strengthen relationships.
  4. Create more opportunities for students to get to know each other. Share about ourselves so all students, especially students with IEPs and MLLs, feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in class.
  5. Be open and relatable with each other; form connections based on life experiences we share.

This willingness to take ownership of the data and desire to be part of the solution invited educators to stay accountable and create solutions that involve all stakeholders.

Afterward, student participants liaised with their fellow government representatives, facilitating their own data presentations to provide an opportunity for additional feedback. These perspectives were brought back to the SIT, with two concrete strategies elevated as next steps.

Co-constructed solutions

The first strategy, dialogue journals, centers around developing stronger teacher-student relationships. By integrating this routine in advisories and across subject areas, teachers will provide space for regular, thoughtful interactions with individual students.

The second, empathy interviews, focuses on developing stronger relationships between students. The routine offers students the opportunity to better understand the experiences of their peers and identify points of connection.

Both routines focus on building greater levels of trust within classrooms.

Over the next few months, the SIT will study the impact of these strategies using student and teacher feedback loops. Data will drive any iterations and the SIT will analyze end-of-year SES data to understand impact.

Learn more

The participation of students, parents, and teachers within the SIT process increases dialogue, improves solutions, and increases accountability across a school. A proactive, dynamic School Improvement Team (SIT) is a lifeline in challenging times. Within Highlander Institute school partnerships, such authentic involvement by multi-stakeholder design teams provides a strong foundation for sustainable instructional improvements.

To learn more about our SIT approach, click here.

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