Envision classroom discussions beaming with student involvement, where curious minds are posing thoughtful questions and attentive peers respond with their own hypotheses, solutions, ideas, and extension questions. How do you build a classroom culture that facilitates this level of engagement and willingness to inquire authentically and share ideas courageously? By no means is this a simple task, and it’s likely not the perpetual state of any classroom, but there can be shimmers of this within a classroom community that embraces student input and values authentic ideas. Encouraging students to buy into this culture of trust stems from healthy accountability and thoughtful structures.
There are abundant opportunities to encourage healthy accountability, both for and from students. This could look like seeking student input on how to remedy situations like heavy workloads, extended absences, making up missing work, or instances of academic dishonesty. Rather than having a blanketing zero-tolerance approach that dehumanizes students and frays the student-to-teacher relationship, simply ask students, “How should we handle this?”
While we shouldn’t cede to unreasonable solutions, this practice gives students a voice and opportunity to think through what a just resolution looks like and how they should be responsible for the outcome. Leveraging this tactic also affords the teacher relationship capital they can use to consistently demand from students their best effort and work while being honest with them when they aren’t fulfilling that standard.
Additionally, in these classroom cultures, students can also have a stake in holding their teachers accountable. Asking students for feedback on how to improve curricular resources and classroom routines in specific ways empowers students to thoughtfully contribute to building a collaborative classroom. This could be a simple survey at the end of every unit that asks what went well, what did not go well, and what they most want to change about the unit, or a survey at the end of each semester seeking feedback on how to improve the classroom routines and dynamics.
At the end of the day, students want to know that you have their best interest at heart, and while you may challenge them to rise to rigorous expectations, we want to help them see that their buy-in makes all the difference, and routinely incorporating their thoughts and ideas helps do just that.