The biggest indictment of our schools is…

from Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant:

“The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. ”

Scott created these charts from the most recent  annual Gallup poll of over 920,000 middle and high school students, and sharing these under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International copyright license. So please share widely! Boring students to death is ridiculous and so unecessary.

Compliance is not perseverance (the grit narrative)

Working hard on something you don’t care about or have a say in is not perseverance or “grit,” it’s compliance.

Thanks to Krissy Venosdale for the cool art! Check out her website for more maker goodies.

I said this last year at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2015. The idea that kids learn to persevere through frustration when they work on things they care about is a central tenet of the classroom maker movement. We talk about “mouth up vs. mouth down” frustration in our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. The former is what Seymour Papert called “hard fun,” while the later is… well… just frustrating. There is no educational purpose to letting a student try to deal with insurmountable problems.

Maria Montessori said, “”Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” She didn’t say that failure is the goal. It’s a big difference that I’ve discussed in other posts.

The conversation has been complicated by the word “grit” becoming the word of the day with the “if we just do x, all will be right with education” crowd. Ira Socol has written brilliantly about how this fascination with grit is grounded in shaky research and barely hidden racism. (Grit and History and Summarizing Grit: The Abundance Narratives)

So it may be just semantics, but words matter, especially if they have been co-opted and become code words for blaming children for not pulling themselves up by their own… opps, they don’t have boots.

Words that work just as well: perseverance, resilience, stubbornness, focus, attention to detail, mindfulness, or craftsmanship. I’m sure there are more.

You can’t teach any of these in isolation. I cringe at the thought of cheerleading kids with “you can do anything” rallies and then marching them back to their worksheets.

The key difference is agency. When the work is yours, it matters more. When you care about what you are making, your perspective changes. Who has ownership? Whose voice is the loudest? By the way, it’s not necessarily true that these attributes are always pleasant or easy to deal with. Stubbornness or a willingness to stand your ground in the face of authority are also indications of resilience. Agency isn’t always polite.

When you see young people as agents of change, rather than objects to be changed, it shifts perspective in a subtle way. Unfortunately, subtle messages tend to get lost in translation.

I’m continually amazed by how hard most students work on things they don’t really have a stake or a say in. Imagine if that work was being done on projects that they cared about and believed in. Every kid wants to be a super-hero, and we have the capacity to empower students to change the world, using their brains, passion, and real world challenges. The promise of the maker movement is not just about the cool tools, but that these tools can supercharge that empowerment.

The “grit” narrative will pass when some other book becomes a best-seller. But the narrative that young people should be active agents in their own learning (in partnership with caring adults) will hopefully outlast them all.

Update (1/29/16): Martin Levins from the The Armidale School in Australia posted a terrific comment on Facebook reminding us that sometimes stopping a project is the best path. Not all projects have a perfect storybook ending, and that’s real life too. Perseverance shouldn’t mean grinding out a project that should have been rethought and reworked.

Making in the classroom is a political stance

When I talk about the maker movement in schools I do talk about tools and spaces, but I try to make the point that it’s about giving agency to kids in a system that most often considers students to be objects of change, rather than agents of change.

One of our reasons for writing the book Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom  was to try to create momentum for the return of progressive principles of education, principles that have been yanked away from kids and teachers by politicians, corporations, and Silicon Valley gurus who think they know how to fix everything with an app.

I think this is a historic time, a second Industrial Revolution, where everything is coming together right at the right time. And like the Industrial Revolution, it will not be just a change in technology, but will resonate in politics, culture, economics, and how people live and work worldwide.

Politics, power, and empowerment
People may not think of the Maker Movement or making in the classroom as a political stance, but they both are.

Politics isn’t only about who gets elected, or the day to day “action” on Capitol Hill, it’s a negotiation of power in any relationship – who has it, who can use it, and over how many other people. The Maker Movement is about sharing ideas and access to solutions with the world, not for money or power, but to make the world a better place. It’s about trusting other people, often people you don’t know, to use these ideas for good.

Making in the classroom is also about power and trust, and perhaps in an even more important way, because it’s about transferring power to a new generation. Young people who are the ones who will take over the world in the not too distant future. And if the learner has agency and responsibility over their own learning, they gain trust, not just the trust of the adults in the room, but trust in themselves as powerful problem-solvers and agents of change.

It is a political statement to work to empower people, just as it is a political statement to work to disempower people. That holds true for all people, not just young people. Being a helpless pawn in a game controlled by others is disempowering, whether you are a teacher, student, parent, or citizen of the world. Deciding that you trust another person enough to share power, or even more radical, give them agency over important decisions, is indeed political.

Making is not only a stance towards taking that power back, as individuals and as a community, but also trusting ourselves and each other to share that power to create, learn, grow, and solve problems. Empowering students is an act of showing trust by transferring power and agency to the learner. Helping young people learn how to handle the responsibility that goes along with this power is the sensible way to do it. Creating opportunities to develop student voice and inspiring them with modern tools and modern knowledge needed to solve real problems is part of this job.

And by the way, you can’t have empowered students without empowered teachers. Script-reading robot teachers will not empower students. We have to fight against the devaluation of teachers, and the devaluation of kids as cogs in some corporate education machine. We can do this, we can change minds, even if it’s hard, even if it seems impossible. We just have to do it anyway. That’s politics.

Education will change, how it changes is up to us
For education to change, it can’t just be tweaks to policy, or speeches, or buying the new new thing — teachers have to know how to empower learners every day in every classroom and be able to make it happen. Leadership is creating the conditions for this to happen.

Let me say it again – There is no chance of having empowered students without empowered teachers — competent, professional, caring teachers who have agency over their classroom and curriculum – who are supported by their leaders and community in that work.

So the question is – can the maker movement really have this kind of impact on schools? Or will this fade into a long line of fads and new-new things that promise educational revolution without actually requiring any change at all.

I see this as a singular time in history. There is an opportunity to leverage momentum swinging away from the testing idiocracy, away from techno-centric answers — to making education better with thoughtful, human answers.

Am I really saying that technology is the way to make education more human? Yes – but only if the technology is used to give agency to the learner, not the system.

I see a convergence of science and technology, along with the power of networks to connect people who are solving problems both global and local. I see people who are fed up with consumerism, opting out of corporate testing schemes – people who no longer have to wait for answers or hand outs from the government, from a big company, or from a university. They can figure it out, make it, and share it with the world.

Why is it different this time?
But haven’t there been a thousand “revolutions” that failed to change education? Why do I think this time is different? Why is this movement going to not be another failed attempt to “fix” education? Because my hero, Seymour Papert, the father of everything that’s good in educational technology, said so.

In his 1998 paper Technology in Schools: To Support the System or to Render it Obsolete, Papert said that the profound ideas of John Dewey didn’t fail, but were simply ahead of their time. Experiential learning is not just another school reform destined to failure because three reversals are taking place right now.

The first reversal is that children can be part of the change. Papert called it “kid power”.

Schools used to demand that students meet standards. But the time is coming when students will demand that schools live up to the standards of learning they have come to expect via their personal computers, even their phones. As Mimi Ito has written about so persuasively, more and more young people learn independently and follow their own passions via online sites and communities, and most of them are NOT run by traditional educational institutions.

The second reversal Papert identifies is that the computer offers “learner technology” instead of “teacher technology.” Many attempts at inserting technology into classrooms simply reinforce the role of teacher (video lectures, Khan Academy), replace the teacher (drill and practice apps, computerized testing), or provide management tools for the teacher (LMS, CMS).

But now we have affordable computers, sensors, and simple programming tools that are LEARNER materials. This transition, if we choose to make the transition, Papert says “…offers a fundamental reversal in relationships between participants in learning.”

The third reversal is that powerful ideas previously only available in abstraction, or in high level courses can now be made understandable for young children. Much like learning a foreign language in early years is easier, we can help students live and breathe complex topics with hands-on experiences.

I believe that this is overlooked in much talk about making in education. While I love the awesome “get it done” Macgyver attitude of the maker movement and the incorporation of artistic sensibilities like mindfulness – I think these are secondary effects. The maker movement is laying 21st century content out on a silver platter – things that we want kids to know, things kids are interested in, but are hard to teach with paper and pencil. Content and ideas that are the cornerstone of learning in the 21st century – from electronics and computer programming to mathematical and scientific concepts like feedback, 3D design, precision, and randomness – can be learned and understood by very young children as they work with computational technology.

But this third reversal may be the most difficult – these ideas were not taught to parents and teachers when they were children. Convincing parents and teachers that today’s children need to understand these new, fundamentally different concepts may be the hardest work of all.

No doubt, there is hard work to be done
The strategy for overcoming the last obstacle brings us back to politics and back to empowerment.

It means that for those of us who want to change education, the hard work is in our own minds, bringing ourselves to enter intellectual domains we never thought existed. Challenging conventions and cultural institutions that are ingrained in us in childhood. Sharing power with others, including students who might not do exactly what we expect them to do. Being willing to change everything, even when we feel we can change nothing.

The deepest problem for us is not technology, or teaching, or school bureaucracies – it’s the limits of our own thinking.

Politics is action, but everyone doesn’t have to be doing the same thing
What can we do when each one of us is in our own unique situation, each of us has a different position on the levers of power, and each of us sees with our own lens? Actually, I believe that this diversity offers strength, because no one person can do everything. Everyone has a part to play to take back the power of learning and create classrooms and other learning spaces where teachers and students are empowered and acknowledged as the center of the learning process.

And that, I believe, is ultimately a political act that will make the world a better place.

How tos: New Making in Education posts from the FabLearn Fellows

Several recent FabLearn Fellow blog posts have created a lot of room for discussion around the topics of fabrication, making, and design in museums and classrooms. Please comment and add your voice!

A brief overview of recent posts:

In 18th Century Buildings, Vector Drawing, History, and Math, Heather Pang explores how a project designed to be a simple skill-builder evolved into something more.

Christa Flores tackles Making for Making Sake? or STEAM for 21st Century Job Skills? weaving in educational philosophy, economic policy, and reaching out to FabLearn 2014 Netherlands attendees to create a global conversation.

Avoiding Cookie Cutters by Keith Ostfeld muses on redesigning an Inventor’s Workshop in a museum setting to help partcipants create more diverse, but still successful projects and includes a terrific video showcasing some young creators in action.

Addressing another perceived roadblock to projects in the classroom – that one teacher simply can’t support students all doing different projects, Christa Flores documents students as co-teachers in The Role of Co-Teachers in a Maker Classroom.

And Heather Pang considers “… the question of how much guidance, how many constraints, how much help to give students…” in Where is the line?

These posts all explore some of the most-asked questions hands-on authentic learning: How do students build skills? How does a teacher assess project work? How does a teacher reflect and iterate on lesson planning and design? Doesn’t this take more time than traditional instruction?

But most of all, these posts all help answer the question, “Can authentic learning be done in real schools and learning spaces?” Obviously the answer is YES!

A leadership blueprint for the modern, connected world

Scott McLeod of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has been asking for posts on leadership for seven years now on what he calls “Leadership Day”. This is a great emerging resource with so many interesting perspectives – almost 500 blog posts! I’ve participated in some years, with my own range of perspectives (see below).

In the past few years my focus has shifted from student leadership to the new affordances of the Maker Movement in K-12  classrooms. Since writing Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, my perspective has changed, but in many ways, also reinforced what I already knew about the power of student agency and ownership of their own learning.

The Maker Movement is a global learning revolution that offers a way to look at leadership in a new way that is relevant for both schools and communities.

For example, in this video architects in Amsterdam talk about the process of designing a 3D printer big enough to build a house, building that printer, and then starting to print the house. When you watch this video, there is an interesting part where they decide to put the KamerMaker (roombuilder) out on the front lawn of their office so that the community can come and see what’s going on and offer their perspectives.

KamerMaker from 3D Print Canal House on Vimeo.

Leadership in the Maker Movement doesn’t mean “I do, you repeat” – it means that together we are better. It may seem messy and inefficient to some people, but I think it’s a leadership model for the modern, connected world we live in.

Here are my previous Leadership Day posts:

  • 2007 – Leaders of the Future where I focused on developing the leader in every learner.
  • 2008 – Just Do It where I urged administrators to stop waiting for the district reorg or the next version of Windows or that bandwidth you were promised 3 years ago and get moving. Listen to kids, don’t listen the teachers who can’t seem to manage an email account, damn the torpedos and full steam ahead.
  • 2009 – Every day is leadership day in which I wrote about the connection between “agency” (meaning true choice) and leadership. Leadership is only meaningful when people have an actual choice to follow or not follow. Leadership is inextricably bound to free will, in the same way democracy is. In schools, this must happen every day, at every level of participation.
  • 2010 – What Leadership Looks Like talks about the challenge we face when trying to describe leadership when it’s so dependent on context and personal style. How can we say “what works” if this is so variable?

I invite you to read the other posts made on the subject of Leadership Day and perhaps write your own. What does leadership look like to you?

Sylvia

Need an inspirational video? How about one that shows kids making, not selling

If you haven’t seen the GoldieBlox commerical making the viral social media rounds, then you should check it out.

The commercial is for GoldieBlox, a company that wants to “…inspire the next generation of female engineers” with a series of building toys and storybooks.  I’m struggling to present this in as neutral a light as possible, because I have hugely mixed feelings about both the toys and the commercial.

GoldieBlox1. The toys. I saw Goldie Blox and The Spinning Machine debut at Maker Faire. The toy consists of a plastic plate that you can place spindles on, and loop a ribbon around the spindles. You can put the figurines on the spindles and when you pull the ribbon they spin around.  The product website says, “GoldieBlox will nurture a generation of girls who are more confident, courageous and tech-savvy, giving them a real opportunity to contribute to the progress made by engineers in our society.”

Really? I guess I just don’t see it. What I do see is over-the-top hype that playing with a particular toy will change society — even if the toy has been designed after “… a year researching gender differences, talking with Harvard neuroscientists, and observing children’s play patterns.” It’s a toy, and not even one that looks like it has lasting play value. And you might say, kids will use their imagination to extend the play value, well then that’s fine. I agree kids might like it. But let’s not go crazy here – it’s a toy, not a cause.

2. The commercial. Honestly, who can be upset to see kids playing like they show in the video? It’s a lovely production. Of course those kids didn’t actually build that contraption, right? It’s as false an image as a photoshopped model selling “true beauty.” But it’s an effective message nonetheless, showing kids being creative in a way that I wish lots of kids could be. And yes, I would imagine that this would be a good kickoff to giving kids a modern idea of a Rube Goldberg machine, it’s fun, visual, great music, etc. It doesn’t give the impression that you MUST have this particular toy to make something cool, so it could easily be inspiring to someone who doesn’t have the toy. All to the good.

So now, what does this mean for education? I’ve seen educators raving about this as an example of “youth voice” and I think that’s simply not even close. Dean Shareski and Gary Stager reject this aspect of the reaction to the commercial and I agree with them both. This is not youth or student voice, it’s a message designed, created, and produced by adults. An effective message, yes, but not the voice of youth.

Should educators show this video to inspire classrooms to build and make? I’m not 100% enthusiastic. Part of this is the commerciality and use of kids as window-dressing rather than the actual makers. If you want a video that shows a Rube Goldberg type device that looks to me like a kid may have actually participated in the building, try this: Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap

The Girls Question: So I’ve been avoiding the “is it good for girls” question up to this point. I’m a girl. I’m an engineer. Shouldn’t I be cheering??

But I have mixed feelings about this too. Of course more girls should be encouraged and supported to become engineers, scientists, mathematicians, or Rube Goldberg machine inventors. Of course, of course, of course. But I don’t feel like handing the argument over to a sales presentation like this is the right answer. The girls in this video reject the message to buy “princess” products as they are simultaneously selling another product. Do I have to like this?

I always have a knee jerk reaction about things marketed as a “solution” to some social/cultural issue. In general, they play on folk myths about culture, and by communicating those myths (even as they refute them), perpetuate that myth. So the fuss over a video proclaiming how girls have the power to do this or that actually reinforces the fact that everyone knows that they don’t. Otherwise, the video would be seen as mundane. If it was true and widely accepted that girls had equal opportunity to become engineers, then the rebellious lyrics refuting that claim wouldn’t make sense. So in a weird way, saying “yes, girls CAN be engineers” only makes sense when we acknowledge the world thinks they can’t.

So I think that educators who show this in class need to do some additional work. I wonder if some of that can be found in the literature about how to reverse stereotype threat. This is the theory that if people are exposed to prevailing stereotypes that predict success or failure in a given task, they will actually fulfill the promise of that stereotype, good or bad.

The “antidote” to stereotype threat is thought to be talking to the people/kids about the stereotype and that they have to power to not live up (or down) to that stereotype. In a way, this is similar to growth mindset.

So using the video might be followed up at some point with a conversation (age appropriate, of course) of why some people see girls as being less capable, and how that’s not true.

But I’m not sure that loading the preparation of a making activity with a message about gender bias is valuable. What are the boys supposed to think – should they be guilty, or maybe wonder if it’s true that they actually ARE better than the girls? I’d rather let the making commence and deal with the issues of making sure that all students are having a valuable experience. If you need an inspirational video, how about finding one that shows actual kids making, not selling.

But at other times after you’ve got the making going, maybe as a wrap up activity, I think this video could be a really great discussion starter. Why does society think that girls should only play with dolls and boys with trucks? Why is pink a girl’s color? Why do we care if girls can or can’t be engineers. What if a boy wants to wear a dress or knit? Is it bad if a girl likes princesses? What kinds of things are girls supposed to do vs. what boys are supposed to do? Has this always been true? Is this true around the world?

The topics of gender imbalance, equality, equity, sexism, history and culture are accessible to even young children without pounding them in the head with “girls rule!!” messages designed mainly to sell them stuff.

This just in – a lawsuit has been filed by the Beastie Boys (who wrote the original song in the video ) suing GoldieBlox over using their intellectual property without permission. GoldieBlox has filed a complaint alleging that the commercial is parody (the lyrics were modified) and therefore permitted under “Fair Use”.

I smell a digital citizenship lesson!

Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner”

“The results being released today show that we are indeed in a new world. And we as adults need to learn from kids in this instance. We need to learn from students about how they learn, where they learn, and how they seek information. I believe we must harness this information to give all students a 21st century skill set to prepare them for high-growth, high-demand jobs in the global economy.”U.S. Rep. George Miller, the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Project Tomorrow has released the Speak Up 2012 report: “From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K-12 Digital Learner

This report is the second in a two part series to document the key national findings from Speak Up 2012. In 2003, The Speak Up National Research Project was born to give K-12 students a voice in critical conversations, and to hopefully provide their parents, teachers and administrators with new insights about the expectations and aspirations of these newly minted digital learners. Now in its tenth year, the annual Speak Up National Research Project and the resulting trends analysis provides a birds’ eye view of the changing environment for digital learning, both in and out of school.

Why is this important?

If you are working in a school, district, or organization planning your educational technology vision, you need to know the latest data on technology usage from the real users of technology. Don’t be satisfied with what you think you know about technology – find out! In fact, poll your own students on these same questions. If you are one of the smart schools that participated in the Speak Up data survey, lucky you! You are getting your own customized set of data for your own use. If aren’t participating – make plans for next year now!

Key Findings from this year’s report

  • With smartphone usage dramatically on the rise – 65 percent of students in grades 6-8 and 80 percent of students in grades 9-12 are smartphone users – a main concern among today’s digital learners is how to leverage the unique features of different devices, from laptops to smartphones to tablets or digital readers, and use them for certain academic tasks.
  • While only 21% of teachers in middle and high schools are assigning Internet homework on a weekly basis, 69% of high school seniors, 61% of high school freshman and 47% of 6th graders are online at least weekly to find resources to support their homework.
  • In just one year, the number of middle school students with a personally acquired, digital reader more than doubled from 17 percent in 2011 to 39 percent in 2012.
  • In fall 2011, 26 percent of students in grades 6-8 said that they had a personal tablet computer. In one year’s time, the percentage of middle school students with tablets jumped to 52 percent, a doubling over the 2011 percentage.
  • Despite this increase of mobile devices in the hands of students, schools are still reluctant to allow them. Among high school students with smartphones, only half say they can use their device at school and only nine percent of students say they can use their personal tablets at school. With 73 percentage of high school seniors saying they have a laptop, only 18 percent of the Class of 2013 say they are allowed to use their personal laptop at school.

Download both reports!

Sylvia

Tips for student presenters at conferences

It’s educational technology conference time of year! There are so many educational conferences that you could literally attend 24/7. Hopefully some of you are taking students along with you to share their work.

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing students step up and hit a home run when presenting, and there’s nothing more excruciating than watching the slow-motion train wreck of a bad presentation by young people who are clearly unprepared or uninterested.

Here are some tips to have the “home run” presenting experience instead of the “train wreck”! (By the way, authentic student voice doesn’t mean they don’t need adult help.)

Ten Tips for Coaching Student Presenters

  1. Make it personal. Have each student tell their own story from their own perspective. It will be more engaging than a generic presentation of what the whole group did.
  2. KISS. Edit down to the essentials. As you practice, help them edit their story down to the essential points. Stick to a 5 minute rule – no one person should talk for more than 5 minutes at a time. Break up the presentation with videos or demonstrations.
  3. Practice, but not too much. Practice out loud in front of other students or teachers if possible. Try not to over-practice; it will sound forced and boring.
  4. Memorize the opening line. Practice the first line until they can do it in their sleep.
  5. Don’t use a script. Even a memorized script will sound stilted.
  6. Try it without notes. It’s a crutch that can be more of a distraction than a help.
  7. Look at the audience, not the screen. Don’t stare at or read from the screen, it disconnects the speaker from the audience.
  8. Timing is everything. Agree on a “secret signal” that means wrap it up. Practice this so they learn to complete a thought without stopping mid-sentence. Explain that you will interrupt their presentation if they go on too long.
  9. Audiences may behave badly. One very odd thing about conferences is that people may get up and leave in the middle of a session. This is normal – don’t take it personally. Be sure to warn students.
  10. Be authentic. Some people are serious, some are born game show hosts. Let them be who they are, use their own words, and show their own personalities.
  11. Rules are made to be broken. If you have one (or more!) exceptionally articulate students, give them more time, but make sure they can stick to the essential message of the presentation.

For more tips, check out this PDF – Sharing Student Voice: Students Presenting at Conferences (PDF). It also covers:

  • Balancing the needs of the audience with the needs of students
  • Research on student voice, 21st Century skills and student empowerment
  • How to plan and submit sessions with student presenters
  • Maintaining student ownership and authentic student voice
  • Logistics tips for bigger conferences and exhibit halls
  • The role of the teacher

Let’s get out there and share!

Sylvia

Infographic: Students have their say on online rights and responsibilities

Check out the results of the 2013 ‘Have your Say’ survey, the UK’s largest ever survey of young people’s attitudes toward online rights and responsibilities. Over 24,000 young people age 7-19 from across the UK responded to the survey, and a further 90 young people explored these findings in focus groups.

Two infographics below with primary and secondary results – these are large files, so why not make a poster! And ask your students what their top ten are to compare.

Sylvia

 

Where Will Future School Leaders Come From?

Great leadership is inclusive leadership, yet the largest stakeholder group in schools is often forgotten: students. Students are 92% of the population at most every school site. To be a leader, you have to lead 100% of the population, not just the 8% who look like you.

Wonder where the future leaders of education will come from? They sit in front of us everyday. Thinking that “school” doesn’t understand who they are. Wondering what their role will be in changing the world. Wishing that someone would give them the opportunity to make a difference.

Students can be leaders of the future by being leaders today. Leadership lessons cannot be learned in a vacuum. Including students in every aspect of school can be done if caring adults make it a priority. Students can learn to teach others, be on real decision-making committees, provide services like tech support, or run for the school board. Students who take on real and important responsibility learn to trust themselves as they show they can be trusted. Empowerment isn’t something you “do” to people; it’s an outcome of being valued, respected, and listened to. Adults can learn to see young people in a new light as essential partners in creating better learning opportunities for all.

Enabling youth voice in K-12 schools isn’t simple. Once empowered, young people might not say or do what you expect. It takes time to teach them how to speak their minds effectively and to work collaboratively. And they keep growing up and leaving, so the effort never ends. Youth voice is about much more than listening to young people, although that’s a start. It’s about long-term commitment to action, because in action, young people find their voice.

I’m not talking about the kind of token youth panel you see at educational conferences, where students who can be counted on to say acceptable things are trotted out for an hour. Everyone nods and feels good about listening to youth voice, and then lunch is served while the kids are conveniently bused back from whence they came.

Ignoring youth leadership potential is a lose-lose situation. We lose their input, convince them we don’t care, and miss the teachable moment. We enable dependence in youth by not allowing them to participate in the process of school decision making. We create alienation and then blame young people for not caring. The curtailing of student press freedom and the blocking of online discussion creates fewer opportunities for young voices to be heard in every avenue and fewer opportunities to practice these skills.

Leaders of today should be worried about where the leaders of tomorrow will learn how to be informed, involved citizens of the world. Those of us who believe that modern technology is a key to changing schools also know that this digital generation has more direct experience with technology than any other group. They could be powerful allies and advocates–if adults make the choice to listen and provide expertise as needed. When students aren’t included in the effort to improve education, we lose more than their technical know-how; we lose the opportunity to shape the leaders of tomorrow.

Sylvia

Cross-posted on GETideas.org’s Featured Thought Leaders Series as part of a webinar. Here is the link to the archive: http://youtu.be/c77ET5-EX9E

And audience comments: https://plus.google.com/u/0/115848119890273950575/posts/WH1Nko4yhNv