Earlier this year, I volunteered to advise our school's first iteration of a student council. Before I began meeting with students, I had been reading about democratic schools, in which students of all ages work alongside teachers in order to carry out school business, including school rules, funding, and hiring new staff. I hoped that student council could be a way to develop our students' leadership skills so that they too could have a meaningful voice in the direction of their school.
Students created a body that is open to all 3-5 students and driven by their passions and interests. The student council is not comprised of elected representatives, and its mission is not to carry out initiatives developed by adults in the school community. It is open to all students and focused on issues generated by students, and students do the work. My job is not to make sure that it accomplishes its goals in a timely manner. I see my role instead as posing questions to the group and modeling democratic processes. This makes progress slower, but it is the students' progress, and it results in deeper, more authentic learning experiences.
During their first meetings, students brainstormed a list of problems affecting them and prioritized those problems in order of importance. They identified conflicts at recess as the most pressing issue facing students. Student council members next prepared a survey for the student body in order to gain greater insight into that problem. Student council is currently in the process of analyzing survey data so that they can brainstorm possible solutions and eventually present those to our principal.
I have been impressed with their eagerness to tackle complex problems and the sophistication of their proposed solutions. I have also been reminded that if we want children to grow into responsible citizens, we must give them actual responsibilities. Moving forward, I hope to strengthen our student council as well as other ways for students to exercise voice and leadership in our school community.
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