What if … ? Student voices at the NEASC annual conference

Our students are telling us what we need to do. Are we listening … and are we ready to act?

I listened with interest to students who spoke at the beginning of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges annual conference on December 8, 2021.

The moderator asked a simple question, one that NEASC had undoubtedly shared with the student panelists ahead of time:

If you could redesign your education, what would it look like?

The answers come from half a dozen students, paraphrased here. The few quoted remarks are direct quotes.

Well, I think someone has to deal with the “cut throat culture” and the “toxicity that comes with that.” I’d like to see a greater sense of collaboration, with more small group time in the classroom and a way to get unengaged students engaged.

I’d like to work on personal organization in order to handle everything I’m supposed to do. It might help to have more “student paced learning” and for students to have a voice in how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning.

I agree that self-paced and personalized learning is important. Learning should not be “one size fits all.” Students need to be able to learn at their own pace in class.

Students of color also need to see teachers of color in their schools. It matters. 

Maybe teachers could focus on having us solve a problem instead of answering questions and trying to get a better grade. And we should focus more on abilities that you can use every day, like learning to communicate. 

If students had more of a say in what classes they took it would be good. I’d like to take more classes I want to, not just those that I have to take because of my age. It would be nice to have “a more individualized plan” for each student.

After the first round of comments, an assistant superintendent from Boston followed up, asking for suggestions about approaches to teaching and learning.

Teaching should be creative, I don’t want to just listen and take notes. Like one time a science teacher made a classroom into a living cell and I still remember the parts of the cell really well. It was creative. We should be able to “get our hands dirty” with project based learning.

And the creativity seems to go away as students get older. I think education should stay creative, even in high school. Field trips and seeing “actual things” is better. I want to experience things, not just see them in a book.

I really think schools need to address stress and anxiety. More work needs to be self-paced and “customizable.” 

Yes, I have a math teacher that gives different levels of work to students in the same class, so that you are working at the right level. Sometimes students can help each other. In fact, students can do a lot on their own, maybe “studying oneself” and then getting help from the teacher when you need it.

Here is my challenge to NEASC and all their member schools. Students are very clearly stating that they would like to have the space to develop greater agency. They would like to have more choice and more control. 

How are you going to answer them? 

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