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Children Should be Seen AND Heard (Part 1)

The best thing I ever did for classroom culture wasn't suggested by a colleague or school administrator. Nor did it come from an education course or book. Nope, the one idea that changed the climate in my classroom 180 degrees for the better came from a grocery store.

It was May 1994, about three weeks from the end of my turbulent first year as a teacher in Chicago, and as I left the checkout line at Whole Foods Market, I noticed a bulletin board near the exit. Alongside the board were blank forms for customers to submit questions and comments to store management. And posted on the board for anyone to read were completed forms with customers' feedback and management's responses.

Go to a Whole Foods store today, and you'll still see one of these feedback boards. And from May '94 on, you would have seen one in my classroom.Student Feedback Board.jpg

So how could a simple feedback system have such a profound positive effect on classroom culture? Well, here are some of the benefits I (and teachers I've trained or coached) have attributed to this system:

  1. Provides students an outlet for verbalizing thoughts and feelings, thus alleviating the need to act them out.
  2. Resolves student-teacher conflict promptly and peacefully, and often prevents it.
  3. Promotes shared accountability and ownership among teachers and students for classroom atmosphere and outcomes.
  4. Presents opportunities for levity at no one's expense (other than yours if you're ok with it, as I was--my hair and singing voice being among the most common targets), and without losing instructional time.
  5. Earns teachers their students' respect and, in turn, their cooperation and compassion. (This was a key to me improving as a teacher from my second year on--having the latitude to try out and tweak new strategies without fear of the same chaos I experienced my first year when lessons bombed.)
  6. Helps teachers establish control of their classrooms without being controlling.

Pretty compelling stuff, right?! Keep in mind, though, that unless an idea fits your belief system, it can be more harmful in your classroom than helpful. So before you run off to print feedback forms, reflect on the belief that made my aha moment at Whole Foods possible: just as customers in a store deserve to be heard, and just as teachers appreciate when principals seek and consider their input, so too should students have a voice in their classroom.

What about you? Do you truly believe children should be seen and heard? And can you respect their opinions rather than refute them--even when they're hurtful (like when a kid called me a racist)? If so, look for my follow-up post soon with tips for implementing a student feedback system in your classroom.


Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission

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