Posted on August 21, 2016
As we endeavor to engage today's learner, it has become clear that the student voice must be an integral part of the instructional process. In many classrooms across our middle school, our faculty members are taking the time to build a classroom culture before school begins. So, how does this process look? As they solicit student feedback, our teachers will ask their students to help co-construct norms and value statements about their classroom expectations, and might include seating and arrangement of desks, tables, and chairs, overall conduct for expectations of behavior, and standards for interacting with one another. Norms, which are different than rules, are specifically meant to establish order. Unlike the rules, norms provide the teacher and students with a shared understanding of how they can support one another in the learning process. Norms are a useful tool for communicating values and beliefs about what it takes to successfully make learning meaningful.
When we began the process of asking our students to help develop a classroom culture and norms, there were initial concerns - that students would be too permissive (anything goes), they would suggest a classroom culture without rules or limits, and a climate of chaos would emerge. Astoundingly, the opposite happened. Often the teacher had to help guide our students to think about norms that were, in fact, less restrictive. We discovered that our students, reacting to past experiences, were working considerately to develop norms and values that would ensure that everyone's voice would be heard and all opinions and ideas respected.
Over time, our middle school faculty has discovered that our students are keenly aware of their learning needs. As astute observers, our students deeply believe and value their education, and when given a chance will develop norms that will maximize and support opportunities for themselves and those around them.
As I walk through many classrooms in our middle school, it is apparent that our teachers have given our students voice by allowing them to be a part of building a culture of learning. Although this represents a shift in past practice, our students are empowered as they learn the fundamentals of self-advocacy. A prime example of student-driven culture is found on the third floor of Atherton Hall. The Middle School Student Council, taking their oath seriously, developed a set of norms that would build a culture of respect, inclusion, and care for everyone. Listed on the bulletin board are the words and phrases: "Compromise," "Be A Friend," "The Honor Of My School is Mine," "Creativity," "Laughter," "Persistence," and "Communicate." These norms and values that hold great meaning to our students, not only define our middle school culture, but will sustain them beyond the community of Mid-Pacific.