Principal - May/June 2021 - 33

It takes intentional effort to lay the groundwork that
provides learners with the trust and confidence they need
to take ownership of their learning.
student-led Learning Showcase, a daylong tour of student
presentations on self-selected projects.
Cavanias and Delavigne take pride that all students are
able to participate, pick a project, and decide how to present
it. Along the way, they work collaboratively, develop bonds
with teacher-mentors, learn to express themselves, and
reflect on what worked and what might be done differently.
More voice in math. At Villacorta Elementary School,
the paradigm has shifted away from only valuing the correct
answer to nurturing an appreciation for the thinking behind
the answer. That's where student voice enters the equation.
Moving to an asset-building approach has validated students' thinking processes, with the end result being more
agency, voice, and overall engagement in math. Principal
George Herrera says he can tell which students have " grown
up on campus longer, because they are more willing to take
risks-more willing to explore and be comfortable discovering their own mistakes. "
" I work harder because I feel like I am in charge of my
learning when I can pick the choice that interests me the
most, " a third-grade student says.
Students unpack problems with their teachers, then go
to small groups to figure out how to solve them. They can
articulate that " they get this part, but not that part, which
is shifting from saying 'I got the wrong answer' to thinking
about the process, " Herrera says.
While there are still math tests, " it's different cramming
for a test versus providing experiences that increase test
scores, " he adds. The goal is for scores to " be part of good
learning and good skills. "
Inquiring minds. At Ybarra Academy of Arts and Technology
in Walnut, California, social-emotional learning (SEL) and space
for risk-taking in class and schoolwide " gives us a freeway to
student voice, " says principal Annette Ramirez. " We want to
know our students as people, not just learners. " The school
offers an Identity Day, on which students and teachers share
what makes them who they are in order to build relationships
and trust.
Ramirez attributes at least some of Ybarra's strength in
cultivating student voice to being an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in which students drive learning. Through
professional learning experiences, teachers develop an understanding that student talk-not teacher lecture-inspires
motivation and helps students express their needs. " Teaching
through inquiry is all about student agency, " she says.

Teachers in the early grades work with learners to create
a risk-free environment. Students choose their own projects, and for transitional kindergarten through first grade,
teachers use play-based learning to provide opportunities
to express voice and choice.
Arguing for agency. In partnership with Argument-‚Äč
Centered Education (ACE), Brooklyn Laboratory (LAB) Charter
Schools in New York City moved student agency and voice
to the debate stage this year. The debate topic centers on
two questions: one on COVID-19 protocols and discipline;
the other regarding a vaccine. Students dig deep into the
research, form opinions, and engage in a civil debate.
One goal is to " help school communities work through
available evidence and take ownership of public-healthinformed, equitable choices along the way, " says Eric Tucker,
LAB co-founder and executive director. Another is to strengthen
voice among the school's grade 6-12 students through
evidence-based discussion and exploration.
The protocols of debate provide guardrails for civil
discussion, and evidence-based protocols offer rigor for
students to develop critical thinking. Within this framework,
students back up their voice with facts and learn how to
recognize and discuss opposing viewpoints civilly. " Structured debate is a means for people to disagree respectfully
and productively, " Tucker and Les Lynn, founder and CEO of
Argument-Centered Education, wrote recently in a Chicago
Tribune article.
Student agency and voice aren't light switches that can
be turned on suddenly. It takes intentional effort to lay the
groundwork that provides learners with the trust and confidence they need to take ownership of their learning.
" Imagine if educators stopped giving students our platforms to amplify their voices, but instead gave students the
platforms they want and need to amplify their voices, " ' says
Styles. " If students are provided what they need, imagine
the impact they will have on this world. "
Barbara Pape is director of policy and communications for
Digital Promise's Learner Variability Project.

P R I N C I PA L * M AY/ J U N E 2 0 21

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