- Explore School Governance Structures
- Learn About Developmental Stages of Student Empowerment
- Value Families’ Knowledge
- Connect with Other Schools
- Rethink, Revisit, Reconnect
1. Explore School Governance Structures
Although any school wanting to revise its governance structure should invest in the time it will take to craft a truly co-created vision —the change process is inherently constructivist, after all — a good starting point is seeing what other schools have done to empower all voices and create more democratic learning communities.
To read a useful summary of the central issues involved with school governance, click here.
2. Learn About Developmental Stages of Student Empowerment
In his book, When Students have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy, Ira Shors writes: “For twenty years, I had been experimenting with critical teaching. Despite my apparent credentials in alternative pedagogy, I was not prepared when power-sharing led to a surge of student demands.
“Suddenly, this group was released into desires for power and democracy, a release I had invited without knowing where it could lead. When a struggle for control burst into the open, I got a new on-the-job lesson about the power relations at the heart of every social experience, especially education. Yet, that heart of power can be so deeply mystified, denied, or buried that it becomes a latent volcano barely disturbing the surface with erratic pulsations until finally an eruption overwhelms the reasonable order of things.
“There is a message in all of this worth rescuing,” Shors argues. “Namely, that power is a learning problem and learning is a power problem, which is the moral of this tale, a theme that Dewey and Freire on separate continents at separate times warned about years ago.”
To read When Students have Power, click here.
To read Stages of Student Empowerment by Kathleen Cushman, click here.
3. Value Families’ Knowledge
“To parents,” Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot writes, “their child is the most important person in their lives, the one who arouses their deepest passions and greatest vulnerabilities, the one who inspires their fiercest advocacy and protection. And it is teachers — society’s professional adults — who are the primary people with whom the parents must seek alliance and support in the crucial work of child rearing. They must quickly learn to release their child and trust that he or she will be well cared for by a perfect stranger whose role as teacher gives her access to the most intimate territory, the deepest emotional places. Their productive engagement with the teacher is essential for the child’s learning and growth, and for the parents’ peace of mind.
“How is democracy enacted? How is immigration enacted? How is multiculturalism enacted? And taking that as a broader metaphor, I see this tiny drama of the parent/teacher conference as a place where the larger dynamics of race and class and culture and gender and educational background and immigrant status get mirrored and reflected. So, in lots of ways, if we look at this tiny drama, we see saturated in it these extraordinary other forces in our society. It’s a great place to look.”
To read a full interview with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, click here.
4. Connect with Other Schools
The Network at fivefreedoms.org was an online community of educators, students and citizens who share a commitment to First Amendment freedoms, democratic schools, and the idea that children should be seen and heard.
A virtual “public square” for the 21st century, the Network hosted members from different places, perspectives, and points of interest. While the Network is no longer active, you can visit Network archives here to access stories and discussions about whole-school change, student voice, and democratic decision-making.
5. Rethink, Revisit, Reconnect
As Carl Glickman argues in Holding Sacred Ground, “It is time to reflect upon what we mean by education with public purpose and how we narrow the huge disconnect between education, citizenship, and democracy.”
To help your school community reflect on its own public purpose, establish a task force to review your school’s practices and structures. Start with the School Handbook, but be as comprehensive as possible — from homework and dress code policies to governance structures. Look for alignment with the school community’s vision and mission statements. What is working? What needs improvement?