Empowering the Silent Stakeholders—Students
“To be a teacher is to be a prophet. We are not preparing children for the world we live in but for a future we can barely imagine.”—Gordon Brown, former dean of MIT Engineering School
21st century business is calling for workers who are prepared to be systems thinkers and to work collaboratively in teams to solve complex problems. Effective schools expect the same skills from their teachers and have spent vast amounts of time and resources training teacher teams to get tangible results by functioning as PLCs. So if part of our work as educators is to prepare students for a world where they can solve complex problems collaboratively and many adults in schools are doing just that through PLCs, why aren’t we teaching students to function as PLCs?
White Pine Middle School began its PLC journey 6 years ago after a leadership team returned from an institute. We saw almost immediate gains as we reshaped our culture around a common vision and collaboratively began to follow the framework. However, our student culture was not in a good place. We had lots of fights, bullying suspensions, etc.
We made the connection that if the adults could reshape the culture of the school using the PLC framework, then we could teach kids to reshape student culture by using the PLC framework.
We formed a student leadership group that continues to exist today and has since been named the “Defenders.” Comprised of influential students who want to make a difference in their school, this team is tasked with improving and defending the school “culture.” One of their primary roles is to prevent and address bullying behaviors. This highly successful group has been trained to say, “Hey, that’s not cool” when they see unkind behaviors, and they are trained to approach students who have been named by their peers as someone who is bullying and ask them to stop.
However, their efforts are not limited to bullying but extend to improving many aspects of student culture. In the past they have addressed things like improving general kindness, manners, academics, how substitutes are treated, school spirit, conflict resolution, lessons about middle school “drama”, drug awareness, and much more!
As “thought leaders” among their peers, this group of students has had a tremendous impact on the culture of our school over the past few years by intentionally redefining what is “cool”. Some tangible results that have occurred in large part because of this group, are significantly reduced bullying behaviors, reduced suspensions, reduced tardies, reduced disciplinary referrals, increased average daily attendance, and increased honor role awardees. This empowered group of students has played a major role in the transformation of WPM in becoming a National Model School and being lauded on the likes of ABC, CNN, and FOX national news.
How does this apply to PLCs?
This group of students starts by developing a vision for what they want their school culture to be like. They then develop collective commitment statements for how they will act. They develop norms when working in smaller teams within the group. They set measurable goals that they would like to achieve and they use student data as the source for making many of their decisions. The group identifies weaknesses in student culture and then in small collaborative teams they come up with strategic plans for improving the weakness. Sound familiar?
Armed with a vision, common vocabulary, commitment and persistence this group of students has been empowered by following the PLC framework to truly make a difference, with a real world experience that is empowering them to shape the future into what they imagine!