"They're never this quiet!" --a first ring Cleveland teacher commenting on the behavior of the 220 students sitting in an auditorium taking a My Voice survey.
The set up was the same as in Akron a few weeks ago. More arm wrestling. More encouragement to think win-win in school with teachers. Only this time instead of sharing My Voice results with students, we were administering the My Voice survey. This school had opted for the paper version and the silent seriousness with which students took the survey was impressive. All 1500 of them in 200+ installments. No one had to shush them. No one had to ask them to be respectful to the guests. No one had to pull a student out for horsing around. We simply showed up, told the students we wanted to hear from them, and their desire to be heard, paradoxically, kept them quiet for the fifteen minutes it takes to complete the survey.
I am more and more convinced that this is how we must move forward in improving our schools. Not in conference rooms with committees of overworked teachers and administrators trying to decide what is best for the students, but with students themselves as our partners. In these assemblies I keep saying teachers and students want the same thing: Students don't want to be bored and teachers don't want to be boring, students do not enter high school so they can drop out and no teacher wants students to drop out, students do not want to be ignorant and teachers do not want their students to be ignorant. Why then have we been stuck for the past ten years with the same amount of students saying they are bored, the same dropout rate, the same amount of ignorance and, by the way, fairly stagnant test scores?
I don't know the answer. I do know that if we start listening to students more they will help us find them. I know that if we ask the right questions in all seriousness they will answer in all seriousness. I know the way forward is with the students, not simply on our own, even if on their behalf.