Letting Students Lead

Students are leading collaboration and change at South San Francisco High School with Action Collabs.

It is 11:00 pm on the last night of Big Ideas Fest and I am in the library with students and teachers from South San Francisco High School having a lively brainstorming session that the students have organized. One of my favorite aspects of the Fest is that we have students fully participate in all of the activities and collaborate alongside educators, sharing their ideas and building innovative solutions together. This year we even have youth facilitators from the Ever Forward Club leading sessions. The past three days have been full of inspiring speakers, dynamic Action Collab sessions, and a thoughtful Taking Off The Mask activity. Typically, in past Fests, I spend the final night relaxing with my fellow ISKME Team members and facilitators, celebrating a job well done, but not this year.

The students have called a late night convening to discuss how they might bring what they have experienced at Big Ideas Fest back to their school. They have an opportunity to lead a faculty meeting in a few months and they want to put together a plan for what they might do. I feel honored that they have invited me to offer guidance to assist with their planning. They begin the meeting sharing some of the challenges they are facing at their school, which include strengthening student and teacher relationships, and improving achievement. They thoughtfully work together to craft a design challenge that they can explore at the faculty meeting, which is:

How might we strengthen connections and communication between teachers and students to improve achievement at South San Francisco High School?

Once the design challenge was created, our next step was to put together an agenda that the students would lead the faculty through during the meeting. We designed an engaging flow of activities that included improv and generative brainstorming, and the students studied our Action Collab Facilitator Manual.

Then, a week before the faculty meeting, we reconvened to run through the activities and practice setting them up. I was extremely impressed with how prepared the students were. They were able to clearly, concisely, and enthusiastically set up each activity. They each had their own unique facilitation style, some were quite animated and used humor while speaking, while others were more reserved and calm. We practiced getting grounded in our feet, standing with confidence, and projecting our voices. We also discussed some of the challenges they might face in getting everyone’s attention and moving the faculty through the various activities. They decided to send an email to all of the faculty ahead of time to let them know what they had planned and request that they arrive prepared to work together in a new way.

While I didn’t attend the faculty meeting the students led, I did get an update on how their first experience faciliating went. The students were a bit shy in the begining of the meeting, and with the encouragement of their teachers they were able to facilitate the activities, which started out in a big group, and then broke into smaller groups for brainstorming. They shared that the brainstorming activity was the most fun and engaging for all involved (see video below), and the students received really positive feedback from the faculty. The students were pleased that everyone contributed their ideas and were able came up with new and creative ways to strengthen connections and communication between teachers and students at their school.

Their next step is to prioritize which innovative ideas they want to test first. I think the beauty of what the students did at the faculty meeting is that they modeled one way that relationships can improve. By letting students lead and share their voice, South San Francisco High School has strengthened connections and opened up the possibilities for further collaboration. Congratulations to the students on their successful facilitation, and thank you to the teachers for supporting student voice and leadership. I can’t wait to see what they do next.