Students in elementary school have a lot to say. They are very thoughtful, and they are incredibly observant. They’re not afraid to share their authentic experiences. — Dr. Randi Lowe, Superintendent of Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union
This year, the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union (BRSU) in southwestern Vermont partnered with CEL to bring Leading Equitable Schools to school leaders and the central office leaders who support them. BRSU, the second largest supervisory union in Vermont, covers approximately 460 square miles and serves more than 2,000 students.
CEL Project Director, Jonathan Aldanese-Wells, worked closely with Superintendent Dr. Randi Lowe to facilitate the learning. Over the academic year, participants deepened their understanding of research related to leading for equity in schools and developed strategies to elevate student, family, and community voices. In small group cohorts, leaders went into schools to apply their learning. Using the Student Experience Story Guide, leaders created questions for students–focusing on those who are heard less often. With questions in hand, the leaders hosted small group discussions where they listened without judgment as students shared their experiences in school.
Some questions that leaders asked students were:
- Tell us about one of your best experiences in school.
- What made that experience the best? How did it make you feel?
- Who are the heroes that help you have the best experience in school? (Heroes don’t need to be a person. Heroes can be a place or thing.)
- Who or what are the villains that get in the way of you having a good experience at school? (Villains don’t need to be people either. Villains can be a place or a thing).
- What would you like the adults in your school to know about what you need to have your best experience in school?
Students talked about what they needed to feel a greater sense of belonging at school and what they wished they had more control over during the school day, among other topics. With these newly gained insights from students across the system, leaders reflected with peers on their visions for student learning and teacher learning and practice.
When asked about her advice for other leaders looking to build a culture of elevating student voices, Randi said, “Our students have a tremendous amount to offer the rest of us.” She encourages leaders to do everything they can to remove barriers that stop students from feeling comfortable and safe and from speaking openly and honestly.