Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why Listening to Your Student Body Pays Off

When teachers flooded my email regarding the need to intervene and stop students from participating in the latest Internet challenge I had no idea what they were talking about. Not only had I never heard of this challenge, I had not come across any students talking about a challenge either. So like my contemporaries, I opened my Internet browser and Googled what my teachers were calling the Mannequin Challenge. 

The funny thing is after watching several videos, instead of being repulsed by this newest and latest challenge, I was actually intrigued. I saw the potential to give my students what they wanted and to create a sense of calm in my teachers. I saw the educational value of these videos and how I could use them to teach inferencing in the ELA classroom. I saw them as an opportunity to discuss and help students engage in healthy conversations around the current hot-button issues of the day.

So what exactly did I do?

I started with a short but very firm conversation with the student body. I shared with them what I was hearing and how I believed we could make their desire to do the Mannequin Challenge in a more controlled way so no one would be hurt or in need of discipline.  I politely asked them to delay their Mannequin Challenge and I invited them to speak to me about their idea. 

It did not take long for a group of 6th-grade students to request a moment of my time. They expressed their desire to do the challenge and they were asking me for my permission to do so. 

The idea of having 400 adolescents complete this challenge without teacher guidance or direction unnerved me. So rather than saying no, I asked for more time. I asked them for the opportunity to bring this request to the staff and get back to them later that week.

Later that night, I did a little more research and came across a video that would lead to our school's Anti-Bullying Mannequin Challenge. This video, unlike others I had seen, had a storyline. A story that was clear and easy to understand. 

Equipped with this new information, I pitched the idea to my teachers, who loved the idea and the order that such a controlled opportunity would afford them. Shortly after, I notified the students of the challenge and I gave them exactly one week to get it done. But this would not be the end of our challenge after the students had their chance to vote, the top three videos would be placed on our district's Facebook page and our school community at large would be given the opportunity to vote. The class with the most votes would receive a pizza party.

So what's the lesson here?

Giving students a voice in what happens at school, not only empowers them but also lets them know you care and value what they think. This is the most important lesson I learned from this experience. And this is a lesson I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life.

"Education is not a passive process." President Barack Obama

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