Friday, April 18, 2014


I have heard Dr. Russell Quaglia speak any number of times. He is always motivational and inspirational whether one-on-one or with our QISA staff or in a hall filled with thousands of people. His closing keynote at ASCD 2014 was no exception. His passion for student voice and for trying to make schools a better place for all kids is fueled by a deeply held conviction that students are the potential, not the problem, in education. Their experiences, their insights, their judgements, their decisions and actions, when partnered with ours, can significantly change the educational landscape.  Let's be honest, 20 years of "Ed Reform" with only the adults at the steering wheel have gotten us exactly the results we are getting. They are good, but it's past time to take it to the next level.

While Russ inarguably has a fiery and dynamic speaking style, part of what roused the attendees at ASCD 14 instantly to their sustained standing ovation was the data he shared with them from over one million students. Over the years QISA has surveyed hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world and have spoken in focus groups to thousands upon thousands more. We have worked alongside students whose ideas for improving their school have been both innovative and practical. They have pointed out the insanity of punishing a student with ten unexcused absences with an out of school suspension, of dress code policies that do not allow for ripped knees, but do allow shorts when it gets hot, and of students who listened to an iPod during study hall being sent to an in school suspension room where they are allowed to listen to an iPod. They have engaged in projects that have brought healthier food into their school cafeteria and better people flow to the cafeteria lines. They have worked with teachers to make classes more engaging and figured out ways to help students struggling with transitions into their school.

What Russ Quaglia did at ASCD, what he established QISA and the Aspirations Academies Trust to do, and what, indeed, he has spent his life doing, is to amplify the voice of students. Russ is a megaphone. For many years his call to the cause of student voice sounded to many like catering at best or pandering at worst. To some it still does (see the last 2 paragraphs) and that's because often student solutions are counter-intuitive to adults. But now it is increasingly apparent that we need students to be our active partners and not just the passive recipients of our well meaning efforts. Are you ready to listen, learn, and lead?

No comments: