One Important Question That Leads to Student Empowerment in Schools

    I walked into Jasper Place High School in Edmonton, Alberta, as a basketball referee for the game, but as a principal at another school at the time.  Every time I walked into that building I was amazed not only by the enthusiasm and pride of the students for their school but how amazing the work was on the walls. I remember asking one of the teachers from the school which company did the artwork and photography displayed across the school. He laughed and said, “A company doesn’t do the artwork. The students do.”
    I was blown away.
    If you would have told me a professional marketing company was doing the work on the walls, I would have believed you. I then started to connect that the pride that I saw in the students for the school was because they WERE the school. They saw their work and art in every facet of the building. To empower students, ownership of not only the product, but the process is crucial.
    I was reminded of this as I was talking to a friend who had shared a fantastic school they had went to, and they shared how much of what they saw in the school was done and created by the students. If you want to empower students, this is a really simple question to ask when taking on anything:
    Could the students be doing this?

    The best assemblies I have ever seen were led by students.
    The best introductions I have ever received as a speaker were written and presented by students.
    The best artwork and photography I have seen in schools was done by students.
    I am biased toward work that is done by students, but I would rather see the imperfect work of a student than the perfect work of a staff member. Not only does this lead to more pride and ownership of the school but it also leads to real life opportunities now that can lead to opportunities in the future. For example, Burlington High School in Massachusetts has a student-led genius bar.  Less work for adults and more meaningful learning for students.
    My friends AJ Juliani and John Spencer always share this idea:
    What are you doing for students that they can be doing for themselves?

    It is such a simple idea but a powerful one.  We talk about preparing our students for the opportunities in the future, but there is no time like the present to create this within our schools.


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