Principal - May/June 2021 - 32

Building the Foundations
While nurturing student agency can lead to increased
student motivation, developing it will depend upon the
strength of a student's relationships, both student-to-​
teacher and student-to-student.
" Building relationships is important because we are like
a second family, and we always work with each other, " a
fifth-grade student at Villacorta Elementary says. " When you
have a good relationship with someone, it's easy to learn
with them. "
Before student agency and voice can take hold, learners
must feel safe and trust their teachers and the school community at large. To develop this sense of trust, learners need to
know that the people around them understand their uniqueness, including their cultural backgrounds and their academic
needs. Through relationship-​building, teachers can also model
key social skills in collaboration, empathy, respect, and compassion. In other words, " another person well-known is a good
thing, " says a fifth-grade student with ADHD and autism.

5 Takeaways From
Student Agency
Initiatives
1. Start with relationships. A level of trust
among teachers and students and students and
their peers is fundamental for student agency
to flourish.
2. Understand the whole child. Lead with social and emotional learning to promote diversity,
equity, and inclusion for groups of students who
historically have been marginalized in schools
or communities. The goal is that all students can
be seen and heard.
3. Create a school environment that showcases mutual respect. Schoolwide allyship
encourages all voices to rise.
4. Provide professional learning experiences.
Build teachers' understanding of the variability
of each learner in order to put strategies in
place that boost student agency and voice.
5. Keep standards high. Customize pathways
for students to lead their own work and achieve
their goals within a rigorous framework.

*

32

M A Y / J U N E 2 0 2 1 * N A E S P. O R G

" Engaging in important dialogue with students is key, "
says Julie Mitchell, superintendent of Rowland Unified
School District. " Just because one holds the title of educator
and they are students does not reduce their role. "

Listening to Student Voices
The following are examples of schools and districts that
have strived to cultivate and nurture student agency and
voice, and the results they have achieved.
Conference plans. The Students for Equitable Education
(SEE) Summit-a multidistrict, nationwide effort-is creating a
student-led conference that will empower students to impact
change in the design and operation of schools.
Led by Mitchell and fellow superintendent Marlon Styles
of Middletown (Ohio) City Schools, the SEE Summit brought
together high school students, teachers, and mentors in
April for a virtual conference. Students selected conference
session topics such as " Teaching Real History and Real
Current Events on Social Justice Issues " and " Cultural
Inclusivity and Encouraging Diverse Expression " and worked
with an assigned mentor to develop each session.
Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis
and the subsequent growth of the Black Lives Matter
movement, both superintendents felt that the time was
past due to work to promote student agency and voice to
build stronger relationships among students and teachers,
as well as enhance a collaborative school culture.
While this is a high school program, its intentionality can
serve as a model for younger students to identify topics
that matter to them and celebrate their identities and those
of their peers, collaborate with classes or schools to create
events by them and for them, and develop strong and trusting relationships with teachers.
Ensuring that all voices are heard. Alvarado
Intermediate spotlights four core beliefs that pave the
way for student agency and voice: that all students have
gifts; that all students have futures; that all students need
teachers in class as well as among peers, family, and the
community; and that every day is an opportunity to be
the greatest version of oneself. Tapping into these core
beliefs, Alvarado's goal of nurturing student agency and
voice is built upon the acknowledgment of, and respect
for, the voice of others-what Cavanias calls allyship.
" When student voice is not grounded in the belief that includes all students, you run the risk that only certain groups
of kids feel empowered, " says instructional coach Jessica
Delavigne. " We make sure we remain aligned with our core
beliefs in order not to let this happen and to ensure the
sustainability and authenticity of each student's voice. "
Cavanias says that authentic student voice also is made
possible by the school's three Rs: Relationships, Responsive
instruction practices, and Reflection. The school binds these
and its core beliefs together into a project-based learning (PBL) approach schoolwide, which culminates in the


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