There once was a politician that prided himself on being a man of the people. He volunteered at soup kitchens, visited the sick, spoke at rallies for important issues, and donated to causes that helped the downtrodden. People respected him, because he appeared to be a man of integrity, a man who listened to his constituents. He spoke often of the "Power of the People" and the beauty of representative democracy.
One day, there was a big vote looming. The politician had made up his mind, and was prepared to vote. His constituents had their own opinion- and it was in opposition to the politician's planned vote. They wrote emails, called his office, sent letters- thousands of them!
But the politician did not listen to the people. He felt that- on this issue- he knew what was best. Even though he knew there might be validity to their concerns, in the end, he KNEW that his vote was the right one, and the people would ultimately thank him for it.
He was voted out the next term.
Voice is powerful.
But when voice is ignored, when voice is not given opportunity to exercise its power- is it really still voice?
We are currently in a time when people share their voice constantly- social media, protests, and we just had a big election. The availability of ways to share our voice is at an all time high. We can interact with our leaders in Google Hangouts, like or express anger on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. We can post open letters, instantly email, and there is still good old fashioned mail and face-to-face.
But I dare say we feel less and less like we are heard.
I recently saw the very scenario above play out- minus the ending. A politician expressed their position, THOUSANDS of people emailed, called, and responded to his Facebook post, all in opposition to his stance. He voted that way anyway. I expressed my voice, but felt ignored.
Now, let's look at my classroom.
A few weeks ago, I was overseeing a Coffee Talk- our student led discussion- and it was over dress code. Again. See, I think the dress code is fine and necessary- and really not that bad at our school. I went to a school where guys could not have facial hair. One of my friends was folically advanced, and would shave before school, then be asked to shave again by lunch. So, having to wear something over your leggings is not so bad to me.
Anyway, in the course of the conversation, I was defending the dress code, and students kept disagreeing, not seeing the point of dress code. I felt my opinions hardening and my mindset setting. Then a student said this "Sometimes I feel shamed when I get dress-coded."
That got through. I immediately stopped and realized that I was failing to hear my student's voice because my opinion differed. I told my students that while I still agreed with dress code- if any student feels shamed by our actions, we need to take notice of our practices.
Let us not be the politician in the parable- so sure we are right, that we know what is best, and silence our students' voices. Student voice is not just letting our students talk and share ideas, it is also helping them see that their voice can have impact. Sometimes, their ideas cannot happen, but if they can, are we working to see them find a way to implement their ideas?
I am sure that we all hear our students' voices- but our we listening to them? Are we providing them opportunities to work out their voice, their vision, their dreams? Or are we deciding that we know best, and their valid concerns will go away when we do what we KNOW is best?
They cannot vote us out like the politician, but we can still lose them.
My campus has Cougar Cabinet- where voice matters and practical opportunities to work it out exist. At least one campus in our district has students sit with interview committees for new hires. Teachers encourage students to write to their representatives or even get involved in the political process through volunteering. And fine arts teachers are constantly finding ways for students to display their voice.
Voice is not voice if it is just heard, it must be listened to, and students need to see that we are willing to act on it. Even if we are not able to always do what they want, they can see we listen. And there is a difference- hearing is just registering a sound is made. Listening takes the words and thinks on them, sits with them and lets the weight of the voice impact us.
When I told my students that I would definitely be thinking about my own practices when it came to how I approached discipline- the were appreciative. "See, that's why I like Lehrmann, he listens to us."
We often complain that our students- and our own children-do not listen to us.
Are we listening to them?