Students as Critical Friends

November 24, 2014

picture-2666-1426704131If you are a member of the New Tech Network of schools you know that the language and process of Critical Friends is as important as the air we breath-we believe it is vital to the life of a collaborative, learning organization. In recently reflecting on this process I realized that while it’s what we do, it’s also who we are. And in that sentence “we” doesn’t just mean teacher-teacher or student-student; it can, and I will argue should, also mean student-teacher.

When I was a teacher at High Tech High North County I was lucky enough to participate as one of several facilitators of a Teaching Methods course through the HTH School of Education, Credentialing Program. The week before classes commenced the small group of teacher leaders were brought together-what we didn’t know was that we would be joined by a small group of students, as well. After a brief welcome Ben Daly introduced the shining adolescents (grades 6-12) as our “student faculty” who would join us in co-teaching the methods course this semester. And while this idea should have surprised any one of us, the concept was so embedded in the organization’s culture that we all just continued on side-by-side thinking through what a meaningful semester could look like for participants.

As the 8 week course progressed I became rather attached to the idea of our “student faculty”. These students brought such an important perspective to our work, at a point that we needed it most-in the planning and ideation stage. I would listen to students tell Teacher Interns “I think there are some great points to your idea for that project, but I’m not sure that it will engage all of your students”. {Woa-you want to talk about a grounding, authentic experience for adults?!} It was in those moments that I began to see this was the kind of voice and push we needed as teachers. So I brought back this idea to our campus at High Tech High North County-I coordinated a small group of students to serve as our “student staff”. These students attended our weekly meetings, PD, study group time and content area meetings. What we found was that just there presence alone reminded us what matters most: the students. What we were also reminded was that they had incredible ideas, pushed our thinking and made us better facilitators.

Fast forward 3 years…I recently wrote a blog post for The Teaching Channel on Critical Friends-explaining the protocol, how and why it’s used across New Tech Network. As I wrote this I thought back fondly to my experiences described above. So often I visit schools and talk to teachers about how much they appreciate CF feedback on project ideas-and while I believe adult-adult feedback is important, I also think this is the place for student-teacher feedback. If you have read any of my previous posts you have probably heard me mention the work of Lissa Soep or Bobby Shaddox-both of which deeply inspire me through their work with Collegial Pedagogy and Co-Designing with students. As schools continue to become more collaborative places of adult learning I think there is a place at the table for students. Student voice matters. Hearing what engages our students matters. Empowering students matters.

The next time you sit down with colleagues to brainstorm, get feedback or work through a dilemma, invite a few students in. I promise you will be better for it.

LIke what you read? Go follow Jenny’s blog where this was originally posted: ReImagine Education