Student-led Forums by Jean Courtney

Students say they want opportunities to be involved, to contribute and to have self-directed learning. They say that the truest form of engagement is self-directed and led.  They want creativity, integrated technology, effective student governments and effective student representation.  They want a voice to communicate with their teachers constructively, in the interests of improvement.

Andrew Pawluch, student, 2008

Andrew’s clarion call to administrators and superintendents of education attending a conference in Toronto in 2008 still resonates in 2015.

Why might this be?  Perhaps it is because teachers and students need resources to support their collaboration.

From my experience with more than 40 regional student forums of approximately 100 students (more on this in a later post),  what I found compelling was that students were hungry to be heard in their classrooms and schools.  How to do this……

Students if you want to host a small student-led forum in your classroom then a good place to start is to visit SpeakOut Alberta’s website on forums.  We adapted their straightforward approach and adapted it to create a kit which students and educators can order at no charge.

The materials lay out the process for students to lead a forum that enables  small group discussions involving 30 students (using post-its and icebreakers) on 4 key questions:

  1. What does it look like when you are learning at your best?
  2. What is holding you back from learning at your best?
  3. What actions can ADULTS take to improve how education looks and feels?
  4. What actions can STUDENTS take to improve how education looks and feels?

The key ideas are prioritized and shared with the classroom teacher,  at a staff meeting and in other forums. Students and adults can create create action plans to move forward on their recommendations and follow up to see what happened.

I have been told by student voice practitioners that this approach has been adapted for use in: a) primary grades using drawings to express ideas; b) guidance departments to ensure the needs of all students are met; and c) a whole school event (secondary school) to gather ideas from students to inform the school improvement plan.   If you have worked with adults/youth to host a forum, I would welcome your comments or a blog post on the experience.

This video gives an example of the magic that can happen, in this case, at a board-wide event focused on action research. 

6 thoughts on “Student-led Forums by Jean Courtney

  1. Great questions. Genuine student voice is one of the most potent learning tools for both staff and students that we have available to us.
    Thanks for the article – enjoyed it.
    Next… student led research!


      1. Hi Jean,
        One of my favourite books is Melvin Delgado’s “Designs and Mehods for Youh-Led Research” is a great resource for anyone interested in the topic. It covers topics such as competencies students need, research methodologies, limitations and making room for innovation.
        When we all learn together — innovation really can happen.

        Liked by 1 person

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