Student Leadership
Have You Asked Your Students Yet?
Invite students in, then prepare to be amazed by the results
James Layman
AWSL Director
Layla Jasper
AWSL Associate Director
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Planning with Data, Closing the Gap
The importance of student voice in schools has been an undercurrent of the work of the Association of Washington Student Leaders (AWSL) throughout its 65-year history. However, in recent years, AWSL has been working diligently to ensure a poignant yet powerful question that has guided our work and mission: “Have you asked your students yet?” With the support and guidance of students, AWSL has woven the concepts of “nothing for us, without us” and “people support what they help create” into the lexicon of school culture and climate. The ability and intentionality to recognize students as “Culture and Climate Specialists” are upon us within our current education system. This summer, we had the opportunity to learn from middle-level students as they shared about their school experiences from the 2020-2021 school year. One of the questions we asked students was, “What were some of the best moments for you during the school year?” Their answers were brilliant and illuminating. One after another, the students shared that “office hours” with their teachers resonated with them in profound ways. The opportunity for their teachers to know them and for them to know their teachers left a lasting imprint in these student’s school experiences. Relationships and building connections serve as building blocks to meet students where they are. These remain as our biggest opportunities to gather, invent, and support student voice and perspective. When AWSL transitioned our student group from The AWSL Executive Board to two student groups, the AWSL Student Voice and Advisory Council and the AWSL Student Equity Cohort, the number of students we got to hear from, learn from, and interact with grew exponentially. In addition, platforms such as Zoom allowed us to remove the geographic location barrier and allow more students to have their voices heard.
One after another, the students shared that “office hours” with their teachers resonated with them in profound ways. The opportunity for their teachers to know them and for them to know their teachers left a lasting imprint in these student’s school experiences.
As an organization, we seek student voice to guide our priorities and programming. This summer, students from our student groups volunteered to share their experiences working with AWSL, what’s going well, and where they saw room for growth. We first asked them about their leadership journey and how they found their way to our organization, which provided meaningful data about how students first see themselves as leaders. Nearly every student found their way to leadership once an adult saw their leadership potential and encouraged them to step into that role at their school. This points to the critical belief and understanding that all students can lead. As one student stated, “Right now, it’s on staff members to recognize how students can lead. The opportunities from that recognition can be endless, but that means that the opportunities and how they are doled out are beholden to the biases that the teachers and admins may have.” This new awareness not only helps adults widen their understanding of leadership but allows space for students to see their inherent value. This student shared a pivotal moment for her in her leadership journey, “It was me understanding my own values, strengths and passion and what I bring to the table instead of fitting into the mold of a certain type of leader that people expect.” Once connected with AWSL, the students found a solid network across the state that allowed them to feel more confident as leaders. It has provided a platform for their individual and collective voice; changes are made, and systems have been shifted. Students find immense opportunities to explore themselves, ways to be involved in their school and community, and what the next steps can look like after high school. This student shared her experience with student voice, highlighting the importance of follow-through: “AWSL got student voice, students informing adults what was important to us, but it didn’t die in the room. People followed up, and there were clear actions taken because of our contributions. The toolkits student groups created are actually being used and shared with stakeholders.” Students were eager to share areas for growth as well. We asked if they were AWSL Director this year, what would they focus on? The number one thing students want is for more students to have access to the same opportunities! They want student engagement, empowerment, and student voice to be a part of each and every school, for every adult to appreciate intergenerational collaboration, and for every student to see themselves as leaders. The students have taught us a lot. They have taught us how much they value and cherish their relationships with the adults in their schools. They reminded us how much they look forward to furthering those relationships. The students have taught us the importance of adults being active listeners when students share with us. Students have taught us to be patient with them and extend grace as they navigate societal pressures, grades, jobs, planning for their future, mental health, and the multifaceted relationships they have with friends and family. Our two student groups will help shape the future of AWSL, our work, and our programs. This work is not easy; it takes intentionality, patience, and time. From asking elementary students how they would like recess to be set-up, to navigating the complex issues our secondary students face daily, there is so much for us (the adults) to learn from our students. Every day we get the opportunity to be learners — to learn about their passions, perspectives, dreams, fears, worries, and their hopes. Students have brilliant ideas, invaluable insights, and ample energy. So now is the time to ask ourselves the million-dollar question: “Have you asked your students yet?” Let this be the year that we make room at the table, invite students in, and let their brilliance radiate through the education system and the world.
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 1– 2021-22