Last week our story of going off script was about the courage—pluck and daring—it takes to listen to student rhythms and prioritize learning over teaching. This week our story is also about having heart. It is about the everyday leadership–the little things–it takes to be a change agent and advocate for student learning.

How to Champion Student Learning

By Kathy Lohse with contributions from LeadLocal

“Miss Kathy, can I talk to you?” Those words stopped me in my tracks. I turned around and saw Daniela, a 5th grade student, standing in front of the Borton Resource Room.

I was on my way to her classroom to continue the project that I was working on with the 4th and 5th grade students at Borton Magnet School. On Wednesdays, I rotate through the 4th and 5th grades while their teachers are in a Professional Learning Community meeting. This year, the 4th and 5th grades are launching an EdCorps-Easy Move It Furniture. Together we will design, make, and sell furniture for elementary school maker spaces, like the one we hope to create here at Borton.

PBL, Project Based Learning, Teaching, champion student learning
Photo by Britt Gouge

The students are really excited about their business. One of the 5th grade classes has shown a deeper interest in the project, so to support the students’ interests we set up additional project time on Friday. It was this extra project time on Fridays that concerned Daniela who had come to find me in the Resource Room.

“Miss Kathy, I have speech on Fridays when you come into my classroom, so I am missing what we are doing. Can I make an appointment with you at another time, so you can catch me up, and I don’t miss anything?”

I was stunned. In all honesty, I assumed that Daniela was absent those Fridays. She wasn’t. She was scheduled for speech and language support. Here she was telling me she didn’t want to miss anything we were doing with our EdCorps.

Each fall Gallup conducts a student poll of 5th – 12th graders, measuring four dimensions of student success:

  1. Engagement – the involvement in and enthusiasm for school
  2. Hope – the ideas and energy students have for the future
  3. Entrepreneurial Aspiration – the talent and energy necessary to build businesses that survive, thrive and employ others
  4. Financial/Career Literacy – the information, attitudes and behaviors that students need for healthy participation in the economy
student engagement poll

Last fall (2016), 51% of students surveyed were disengaged at school (29% “not engaged,” 22% “actively disengaged”).

This probably doesn’t surprise anyone in education. That’s why when Daniela took the initiative to come speak to me and offer an alternative solution (set up an additional meeting time) I was surprised.

I thought about my response, because I wanted to let Daniela know how pleased I was that she was advocating for herself. At the same time, I didn’t want to step on the Speech and Language teacher’s “toes.” I respect her work and understand the challenges of scheduling.

“Why don’t you talk to your speech teacher and let her know what is happening on Fridays? Let’s see if we can make a plan for both the project work and your time with her? If it works out we can change things up. Otherwise, I will make another plan for you and I to get together.”

EdCorp, Champion Student Learning, Entrepreneur
Photo by Kathy Lohse

Daniela seemed satisfied, and I went on my way to her classroom to work on our project. After school, I approached the Speech teacher and told her about the conversation with Daniela. Daniela had already talked to her as well. We agreed to address the student’s concern.

The following week, I was absent due to a family emergency. When I returned to school, trying to catch up with all I missed, I remembered that I needed to check on this issue. I wrote a short note to the speech teacher and put it in her mailbox. We ran into each other later.

“Kathy, it’s all taken care of. Her teacher and I switched her meeting time last week.”

Thank you to our speech teacher and the classroom teacher for taking action on a student’s request. Daniela did everything right in wanting to create a change in her schedule to be a part of our EdCorps. She demonstrated real leadership in advocating for her own learning. Taking the initiative to speak up and ask for change is never easy. We needed to take action for her.

I am also proud of the leadership our teachers modeled in listening and supporting this student, because it is everyday leadership–the millions of small off script actions, that will move the needle on student engagement and inspire learning for all students.

How can you champion student learning? Practice leadership from where you are–listen with compassion and take actions (no matter how small) that support students and learning. After all, it’s the little things…

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