Student Voice: Selling Hope

February 28, 2022

With all that has transpired in this country and in Europe over the last few weeks, it is easy to slip into despair. However, when you work with and in service of children it is both difficult and unhealthy to live in that space. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with a group of eight students from Robert Bateman Secondary last week, and true to form, they not only affirmed the importance of our work, but lifted my spirits about the fundamental importance of our ongoing journey to deepen student learning experiences in our schools.  

For those of you who have been following along with me, I try to host meetings with students from every secondary school each year firstly to model the importance of student voice, but more importantly to listen and learn from the perspectives of our people who will be caring for this land in the years ahead. I have a standard set of questions and have augmented them over the last two year to deal with the COVID-19 elephant in the room. However, as you will see below, I am careful to not let the “weather” dominate our conversations. This diverse group of grade eleven students had some remarkable things to say about their learning journeys, but most of all I was struck by their hope for a brighter tomorrow. Below are some key comments worthy of our attention and reflection:

What are you learning about yourselves?

• I have learned how to manage my time a lot better.
• Learning how to adapt and still be able to try to figure out how to keep myself occupied while learning. Finding different ways to stay motivated.
• Learning how to be more flexible.
• I have learned how to adapt to both working and going to school at the same time.
• I liked being online because it reduced the social pressure of being at school.
• I am the opposite; I thrive off social interaction and I had to learn how to find ways to keep that connection.

What have been your greatest challenges?

• This has taken a toll on my mental health; and it has been difficult getting used to things being normal again.
• Talking through Google is a different experience than being in person with peers and teachers.
• Many of us were learning on our own because we were not really paying attention during online lessons.
• Holding ourselves accountable to not be in our beds during class; to be dressed and ready to do work.
• So much of this was managing the different types of home environments we had.
• Losing friends and families because of different beliefs. It opened your eyes to see that it could take one thing to ruin everything.
• We have missed a lot of things. We missed high school. Sports. There are gaps in our learning. The fun of high school was not there.
• Teachers who used the pandemic as an opportunity to pile the work on people.
• It was hard reaching teachers when you really needed them. Teaching ourselves concepts was very difficult with no one to go to so you can clarify when you needed.

What has made the difference?

• Recording lessons was much more helpful rather than just a live lesson.
• Teachers who ask if you understood and check to see if things are making sense.
• One on one calls with my teachers.
• Office hours that allowed you to have one on one sessions.
• Personalizing the lesson for the students you have. Asking us how we wanted to receive instruction and assignments.
• Teachers who posted mental health check-ins. It’s hard to turn your camera on if you barely know the teacher. You need connection with the teacher and students. They had break out rooms where we could talk to each other about how we were doing mental health-wise.
• Teachers who really knew how to use the technology.

Words that describe the teachers you know care about you: 

• Caring
• Involved
• Grace
• Selfless
• Good listener
• Understanding
• Compassionate 
• Empathetic

Something you are looking forward to:

• Pep rallies
• My senior year and football
• Prom
• Grad lock-in and cruise
• A normal grad year
• We are the lucky ones because things are looking up right now
• Going to university
• Dances

I will close with this quote from one of the students: “I feel more ready (for the future) than I thought I would because of the pandemic. The pandemic has helped to shape me to work harder and to do well in high school. It has gotten me ready for university.”

I want to extend a sincere thanks to Mica, Conner, Gabby, Roi, Gideon Akuffo, Alyson, Ethan and Brie for reminding us of the importance of living and learning with hope.