Waiting at Gordon Station at about 3.30pm on a Friday is an interesting experience. You have the regular flow of people, all uniformed in their own way by policy or fashion, as well as the regular rumbling of trains along the arteries of the city. You hear voices young and old in a cacophany of laughter, shouts of greeting from one platform to another and the other methods of communication we use to meet, share and leave each other.
There was a specific reason I was waiting at Gordon Station and able to observe this very human event – man-made structures to suit man-made timetables to get to man-made jobs and schools: to attend Sydney’s first StudentMeet at Shore School in North Sydney. I was to chaperone one of our school’s bright lights to Shore to share centre stage with other students, aiming to teach their teachers something about education and learning.
Having now been involved in the organisation of quite a few TeachMeet events in Sydney and beyond, I was excited to be sharing the experience with those who are the core and reason for our existence. More than that, the aim of a StudentMeet is to actually allow students the chance to present on ideas and issues they consider important without fear of judgement or penalty by an audience of peers and teachers.
The idea began in the historically rebellious North of England, where Nick Jackson (@largerama) and his Digital Leaders organised, ran and presented at their own “Teach the Teachers Meet” in June of this year. Thanks to a scholarship I was able to visit England and attend this special event that had over 100 attendees and proved to me just how far students can go when supported with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to beat their own path, rather than tread the one pre-prepared by teachers.
However, back to Sydney and a particularly summery Friday in October, Amanda along with students from several other schools including Knox Grammar, De La Salle College Ashfield, Roseville College, Oakhill College (presented by Jeanette James @7mrsjames on behalf of her students), Erina High School and my own school, Brigidine College.
Thanks to the guidence of the Shore Mentor for Learning and Teacher, Mr Cameron Paterson (@cpaterso), the students from Shore provided the organisation and support needed to run a smooth workshop as well as presenting on their own topics.
Please take the time to browse the Storify-ed twitter stream from the day here
Some key learnings that I took away include:
- Giving students the chance to voice their ideas, concerns and dreams is not just a ‘nice’ thing to do to tick a box in student engagement, it is now an essential part of our practice and reflection as professionals.
- Students can be powerful, inspiring, articulate educational innovators but are often dismissed as having only one role in a school, and usually that is as a sponge.
- Teachers, as we know, are generally not as comfortable with either technological change or change in general. However, our students are living in a world of constant change and need to be equipped and supported to deal with it, not ignore it until they graduate.
- Students do not wear blinkers that mean they only see, learn, wonder or think educationally within the gates of a school. In fact, school only makes up one perspective from which they now judge the world and their experience of it. We need to make sure we connect to the world as well as offer stability and consistency in students’ growth.
- Learning does not stop when we graduate from formal study and it certainly is not a one-way process from teacher to student. When teachers accept that they are no longer the font of all knowledge and are, mostly, one bubbler (water fountain) in a line from whom students can receive information, feedback and support when and if they are engaged enough to use us. Now, our students can help us be a better bubbler. Otherwise all we will do is dribble and be turned off.
This form of professional learning and networking is so important that I will strive to support any other educators who wish to organise similar events. We wish to encourage all sectors and all areas of education to support students sharing in this kind of informal, interactive and productive process. I’m very proud of all the students who took the corageous step to reflect on their experience and deliver thought-provoking speeches and, indeed, challenges to all of us.
Our most important stakeholders of curriculum and global change have the ability and will to engage in these kinds of high-level debates and discussions. If we don’t include students in the conversation, why are we suprised that they choose not to participate at all?