Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the youngest Primary division students or the oldest Senior division students. Elementary school is a crucial time in a student’s life, as it is where they begin to develop their sense of identity and learn essential social and emotional skills. When students feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, they are more engaged in the learning process and are better able to take ownership of their education.
One way to support and encourage student voice in school is through student council, which provides students with the opportunity to become involved in their school’s decision-making process and represent their peers. Oftentimes, high schools have student councils, but they are not always commonplace in elementary schools. How can we effectively implement a student council in an elementary school to foster student voice? Let’s explore this further!
Benefits of Student Council in Elementary School
There are a number of benefits of student council to both the students and the school community. Student councils allow students to develop leadership skills as they take on the responsibilities of representing their peers and making decisions that impact the school. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them. Being a member of the student council gives these students a sense of empowerment and encourages them to become active members of their community.
We don’t want our school systems to create passive learners; rather, we want to empower and inspire our students to develop and implement meaningful change in the world! Student council is a great strategy to promote student voice and agency. It provides a platform for students to voice their opinions and ideas, which can be used to determine some school policies and processes, fundraiser ideas, theme days, and special events at the school. This promotes a sense of ownership and involvement in the school community, which can improve student engagement and academic outcomes.
Assembling a Successful Student Council
A successful student council should be diverse and inclusive. “The overall goal of the student council is to represent each grade and the students as a whole and provide leadership for the student body” (classroom.synonym.com). The leaders of the student council could be students from the highest grade, depending on the structure of your school (mine would be Grade 8 students). One way that these student leaders could be chosen would be through an election or vote process, allowing their peers to identify and select which students best represent their class and school community. This strategy in and of itself allows students to exercise their student voice and make the council representative of them.
Another way to assemble a council is through teacher nominations. Teachers could nominate students who they believe would make effective leaders and represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers. I believe that it would be beneficial and important to have 1-2 students from each class be “class representatives” on the student council. This allows all voices to be heard from various classes and grades, while also making it easier to communicate information to the larger school community (i.e., class representatives can promote the upcoming fundraiser to their own classes).
Twinkl has curated a few helpful resources to get you started on assembling your own student council (Twinkl – How to Start a Student Council):
The American Student Council Association is a great starting point for your research: https://www.naesp.org/asca.
Many states have their own student council associations, such as the Texas Association of Student Councils: https://www.tasconline.org/what-is-a-student-council-.
The National Education Association has some helpful hints for starting an elementary school student council: http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/Elementary-School-Student-Council.html.
Supporting Student Voice
The more that we as educators can give our students “choice, control, challenge, and opportunities for collaboration, the greater their motivation and engagement will be” (Student Voice: A Growing Movement Within Education That Benefits Students and Teachers, pg. 2). Student council can be a great way to encourage students to share their thinking by creating a safe and inclusive environment where all ideas and opinions are valued. Through regular meetings with teachers and administrators, students can help to plan and facilitate school activities that they would want to participate in. These could be fundraiser activities, like book fairs or dance-a-thons, or community service initiatives, such as food and clothing drives.
Student council could also plan fun events, such as theme days (e.g., jersey days, pajama days), which would help to foster a positive and unified school community. During meetings, students could provide feedback on school policies and programs and have a say in decision-making, such as improving school facilities (e.g., recess equipment) or promoting environmental sustainability (e.g., composting program). All of these different examples of involvement provide students with a sense of agency and allows them to actively contribute to their school community, rather than being passive learners and products of the system.
Student councils can be a valuable resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. One way the student council can help educators differentiate instruction is by gathering and analyzing student feedback on learning experiences. Student council could create a student survey where they assessed their learning environment and experiences at school, while also suggesting ways that their learning experience could be improved (i.e., hands-on learning, field trips, outdoor learning experiences, etc.). With this information, educators can tailor their instruction to better meet the diverse needs of their students.
The student feedback could also be used to help guide the student council’s programming. For example, student council members could create and participate in a peer mentor or tutoring program at school, providing additional support to students who need it. This can be particularly helpful for students who may be struggling with specific concepts or skills. Survey feedback about representation could be used to guide in-school initiatives, such as Black History Month programming or a Girl’s Coding and Robotics Club.
Developing Global Competencies
Participating in the student council would provide countless opportunities for students to develop global competencies. Collaboration and communication are at the forefront of the council, allowing students to use their voice to share ideas and communicate change to the larger student body. There will be plenty of opportunities to work through challenges and find solutions to issues occurring within the school. This collaboration will encourage students to exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By working as a student community to represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers, student council members develop empathy and respect for others, which strengthens their citizenship competencies. To further this sense of citizenship beyond the school walls, student council could facilitate initiatives that promote global issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice and equity. This can help them develop a global perspective and prepare them for an increasingly interconnected world.
From leadership roles that encourage student voice to developing students’ global competencies, student council provides numerous benefits to elementary school students. Does your elementary school have a student council? How does your student council promote student voice, choice, and agency? What are some important considerations when facilitating a student council? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences and develop our students’ sense of belonging and citizenship in our global world.
A resource that I feel would work well with my Grade 3 students to integrate FNMI teachings and develop their citizenship competencies is the “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series. This series of books are written by an author, Chad Solomon, who is a part of the Henvey Inlet First Nation community in Ontario (www.goodminds.com). Since he is a member of the FNMI community, we know his books’ content is authentic and appropriate to use as a teaching resource about FNMI culture and teachings.
Chad’s “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series is a collection of early reader stories, each focusing on a different Grandfather Teaching. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are a set of traditional teachings from Anishinaabe culture that promote values such as respect, love, honesty, courage, wisdom, humility, and truth (www.aihschgo.org). These values are relatable teachings that students can easily recognize in their own lives and intentionally work towards developing further. This helps to bridge the gap between communities and recognize that our outlooks on life are similar, therefore developing our citizenship to our local, national and global communities.
Incorporating these teachings into a Grade 3 classroom in a respectful way can be done by using FNMI-curated resources that appropriately reflect their culture’s teachings. It is important that these teachings are used in a respectful manner, and given the content of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, they could be used as a tool for promoting positive behaviour in the classroom and school community. In fact, this year, our school, following the guidance of our board’s FNMI liaison, is using the Seven Grandfather Teachings as our monthly virtue assemblies. Each month, classrooms teach about one of the teachings and promote/identify this value in all that we do. Then, we come together at the end of the month as a school community to reflect and celebrate the strides we have made in developing that specific virtue. As we do, we always acknowledge the origins of the teachings and the importance of FNMI knowledge and culture; we must remember that, while these teachings are transferable across cultures, we must not claim them as our own.
Teaching Resources/Supports: https://rabbitandbearpaws.com/teachings/
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences.
Global Competencies refer to a set of “knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values” that help individuals understand and engage with the world around them (OECD: Global Competency for a Global World, pg. 7). These competencies include:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship
- Self-directed learning
Educators build upon these competencies in the classroom, through intentional learning activities, so that students are prepared to be effective and responsible citizens of a global society.
There are several connections between the use of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and students’ development of Global Competencies. Firstly, in order to be a respectful and effective global citizen, students need to have an understanding of the world around them. By integrating Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into our teaching practice and having students learn about different cultures, ideologies, and perspectives, students will become a more knowledgeable and empathetic citizen of the world.
However, we don’t just want our students to understand the world around them; we want them to be active members of a global community! Educators that are “engaged in the work of culturally responsive pedagogy are ‘committed to collective, not just merely individual empowerment’ such that the impact of this approach to teaching is directed towards making change for all members of society” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 7). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy can help teach students that their voice and actions can make a difference, therefore developing social responsibility, global citizenship, and communication skills. These, too, are important global competencies that all students should develop within our classrooms.
We are only able to solve problems that we are made aware of. Therefore, by intentionally learning about both local and global issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, students can develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for addressing global issues, especially when they become the adults in society that drive this change. We can also build upon these Global Competencies through a culturally responsive lens; by examining and discussing the ways in which different cultures approach and understand these issues (i.e., what led communities to experience this issue, what are the varying viewpoints from different groups involved), students can develop a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in solving global issues.
There are a multitude of ways that training can be delivered to education staff, both formally and informally. It is important to acknowledge that the education system is changing (e.g., new pedagogies and types of technology, while also adjusting to staffing concerns, etc.) and we must adapt to these changes in order to maintain innovative as lifelong learners. A creative approach to teacher training that I have read about and would be interested in trying is Pineapple Charts.
What is it?
Pineapple Charts provide an open invitation for other educators within your school setting to pop into your classroom and watch you facilitate a specific activity or lesson. The goal would be that other educators might learn something from watching and/or participating in your classroom that could be useful or integrated into their own classroom. Simply put, Pineapple Charts provide a space for “meaningful and affirming collaboration” for educators (Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
How does it work?
Let’s say you have a tried-and-true lesson that your students enjoy every time you use it. Or, you have designed a new lesson that has your heart and mind pumping with excitement to try. Or, you are going to use a teaching strategy or technology tool that you think other teachers might benefit from seeing in action. Really, any sort of lesson that you think other teacher’s might be interested in, you post that information on the school’s Pineapple Chart. A Pineapple Chart is a blank chart with each day of the week and each period of the school day that is posted in the staffroom (or anywhere teachers gather) or digitally (shared Google Doc) where teachers can fill in information about their lesson (TECA, Pineapple Charts: Learning from Your Peers).
For example, if I know that I am going to teach my students about coding on Spheros on Wednesday right after lunch, I will write that in the Pineapple Chart (e.g., Mr. Burton – Sphero Coding). If this is something that another teacher has been interested in learning more about or seeing in action, but hasn’t found a way of learning that works for them (e.g., online training), they can come attend my lesson at that time. Teachers can either use their planning time, or can rearrange their planning times with other colleagues in the building, to attend this valuable, yet informal professional development.
But, what’s with the pineapple?
Well, pineapples are a symbol of welcoming and hospitality, which fits well with the overall theme of the Pineapple Chart! This approach to teacher training is built on organic, staff-led collaborative learning. When a culture of open-doors and teamwork is fostered and embraced, the level of deep learning that can be achieved is unmatched.
How can this strategy be implemented successfully?
This strategy to teaching training only works if teachers are willing to open their classrooms up to their colleagues. That being said, there may be some things that have to be put in place in order for staff to buy-in. Adrian Cargal, an Instructional Coach and author at Edutopia, outlines 3 key components to successfully implement the Pineapple Chart:
(Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
- It’s a voluntary endeavor: Pushback will be inevitable if it’s a required task.
- The Pineapple Chart is accessible by all employees: A shared document via Google Slides or an equivalent is optimal.
- It’s a connected call to action that inspires others to join in on the fun: Highlight the positive things that you’ve observed in your classroom at every possible opportunity. This will encourage your colleagues to participate and will make the PD experience more collaborative.
Have you used Pineapple Charts in your school setting? What are some ways that staff buy-in could be fostered? What other uses could this strategy be used for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
I have compiled a list of 5 resources that support technology in mathematics and that have the ability to transform the Primary/Junior math class! These resources are definitely some that you will want to try and use in your classrooms to benefit and assist math learning.
KnowledgeHook is an online program that engages students with immersive game-based activities designed to improve understanding. Teachers are provided with a dashboard that tracks student performance, identifies gaps in understanding, and provides lessons and resources to target those gaps. KnowledgeHook can be used in 3 ways: Missions (students work on tasks individually), Game Shows (students work collaboratively or competitively as a large group), or Paper-Mode (students use printed QR codes to answer multiple choice questions). These activities are great for diagnostic or formative assessments, providing both the students and teachers with immediate feedback about their understanding of a specific topic. It can also be used to differentiate learning, as individual students can be assigned content from any grade level. My school board has provided every teacher with licenses for this resource and I believe it has been a beneficial tool in our math classrooms (not to mention the students love it!).
Scratch is an online coding platform. In fact, it is the world’s largest free coding community for kids! With Scratch, students can program their own interactive stories, games, and animations using block-based coding. This platform provides students with an area to create their own animation, view other’s animations, and follow step-by-step tutorial on a number of different topics, such as making a chase game. There are so many possible cross-curriculuar ways to use Scratch, such as animating a story written in Language or creating a dialogue between two characters about something they learned in Science that week. My students have enjoyed using Scratch (and ScratchJr.) to learn how to code, how to think creatively, and and how to work collaboratively towards a common goal.
Toy Theater is a collection of interactive educational games for elementary students. Their games and tools can be used on computers, tablets, or mobile devices. My favourite part of this website are the virtual manipulatives. There are so many different virtual manipulatives available on the website, such as interactive clocks, 2 colour counters, 3D dice, probability spinners, graph builders, fraction bars, base ten blocks, and many more! The virtual manipulatives offer the opportunity for students to manipulate tools that help them to understand math concepts, which is especially beneficial when physical manipulatives are not available in the classroom. My students have enjoyed using these virtual manipulatives and have found them to be helpful in their learning process, especially when we had to pivot to distance learning throughout the pandemic.
Osmo is a gaming accessory that provides hands-on learning activities in which players use objects in the real world to interact with the digital world shown on their tablet. Essentially, there is a mirror that connects to the camera of the tablet, allowing it to capture what is being done on the table in front of it. This allows for the table to become the workspace for the learner as they follow the instructions on the screen to complete the activities, which is determined correct or not using the mirrored camera. Osmo’s games are geared toward embodied learning, meaning their games teach abstract concepts by connecting them to objects and actions in the physical world. There are a variety of games and accessories available, such as coding, tangram, and number activities. I have seen students gravitate towards these activities, as they uniquely combine physical and digital interactions. The games also help to foster social-emotional skills like problem-solving, creativity and perseverance.
Solve Me Puzzles
The iPuzzle project has developed apps for students to explore logic-building and mathematical puzzles in an interactive, digital format. There are three games to play on the website: SolveMe Mobiles, SolveMe Who Am I?, and SolveMe MysteryGrid.
- SolveMe Mobiles: This activity provides students with a hanging mobile, in which they need to figure out the missing value of the shapes. They have to use their understanding of equations and expressions to balance the mobile using the correct numbers.
- SolveMe Who Am I?: This activity features puzzles where a number robot gives clues about what number it is. The goal is to fill in the blanks for the digits to solve for the mystery number.
- SolveMe MysteryGrid: To solve these puzzles, students must place all of the tiles on the grid so that every row and every column contains exactly one type of each tile (similar to sudoku).
The SolveMe Mobiles is something I use on a yearly basis with my students and I have found it to be a positive and beneficial tool. This activity really challenges students to use their knowledge of variables, expressions, equalities, and inequalities, and it gives them a visual representation of what the meaning of the “=” in an equation is.
Pedagogical documentation is “a process for making pedagogical (or other) work visible and subject to dialogue, interpretation, contestation and transformation.” (Dahlberg, 2007, p. 225). By engaging in this process of interpreting student thinking and conversing in professional conversations with our colleagues, we can gain a deeper understanding of student learning and our own teaching practice. When we engage in pedagogical documentation, we are “examining and responding to the interplay between learning, the educator’s pedagogical decisions, and the student’s role and voice in the learning” (Capacity Building Series: Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, 2015, pg. 2).
Assessment FOR and AS learning are both integral parts of the learning process, providing us with ongoing opportunities to give feedback to students, as well as guide them to become valuable self-assessors. Pedagogical documentation, assessment FOR learning, and assessment AS learning all have a focus on the students’ learning process. It is important that we reflect on and discuss our teaching process that led to our students’ work samples. Assessment FOR learning provides students with learning opportunities in which they can practice the skills being taught., while assessment AS learning allows students to self-reflect on their own performance and set goals. Assessments FOR learning also provide teachers with the opportunity to provide feedback to students, guiding them in their learning process towards success. Through pedagogical documentation, we can reflect on the moments of feedback that we provided our students and work with our colleagues to improve our current feedback practice.
Pedagogical documentation differs from assessments OF learning, as this type of assessment is based on the student’s achievement of learning curriculum expectations at the end of a learning cycle, rather than the process of learning that they engaged in leading up to the summative assessment. While we can use pedagogical documentation to reflect upon student learning displayed through assessments OF learning to guide future instruction, it is much more of a proactive approach to reflect on and adjust our teaching practice throughout the learning process, as guided by assessments FOR and AS learning.
I think I would choose to engage in pedagogical documentation because it would allow me to connect with other educators and discuss aspects of our current teaching practice, whether they could be improved or not. We know that learning is an ongoing process and therefore, there will be many moments of reflection throughout in order to guide future actions. It is especially important for educators to find time to reflect with each other, whether that be with another classroom teacher, Special Education teacher, administrator, educational assistant, or a consultant. “When engaged in collective reflective practice, teachers question, reason and probe ideas in order to push thinking of the group further” (Collaborative Teacher Inquiry, 2010, pg. 4).
This approach would also benefit students when they are invited into the process. When students are aware of what they are learning, how successful they currently are, and what they need to do next in order to achieve their goals, they can be contributing members of the learning process and have agency over how they learn (i.e., “I didn’t quite understand that task. Could I continue working on it tomorrow with a classmate?). Through pedagogical documentation, students “can develop and use metacognitive skills crucial for ongoing, lifelong learning” (Capacity Building Series: Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, 2015, pg. 2).
This approach can be incorporated into my plan for professional learning with colleagues by encouraging pedagogical documentation as a regular practice among our team. The Capacity Building Series article suggests getting started with this process by documenting some form of student learning for about two minutes a day. We are all able to find 2 minutes a day to focus on documentation, and by doing so, we will organically begin to make it part of our daily practice. We can keep each other accountable by having short-and-sweet check ins with each other to reflect on our documentation process and discuss future steps for student learning based on what has been recorded.
I think it would be a valuable professional development exercise to challenge our division staff to predict how their students will perform on a future assessment OF learning task based on their documentation and review of the assessment FOR and AS learning tasks that led up to the assessment OF learning. After making their predictions, they would mark the assessment OF learning task and could see how accurate they were. This would provide many opportunities for reflection: If student performance did not correlate with predictions, then why? Was it the task? What part of the learning process could have been improved to further student success? This action item following our meeting would encourage our staff to truly focus on the learning process, especially the assessments FOR and AS learning.
While at first it may be intimidating to open up my teaching practice and student work samples for other teachers to examine, it is important to remember that it would be for the ultimate benefit of the students’ learning process. When we open ourselves up to feedback from other professionals, it can be a bit scary, but it can also lead to incredible learning outcomes that can greatly improve our teaching practice.
Collaboration is a concept that everyone is aware of and participates in, but has a hard time defining. My working definition of collaboration is:
A reciprocal exchange of information during the process of two or more people working together in order to achieve a common goal.
In the education sector, there are many forms of collaboration, such as: teacher-teacher collaboration (working to improve practice, share strategies for supporting students), student-teacher collaboration (providing information and sharing strategies to help guide learning experiences), student-student collaboration (working to solve academic challenges and goals), and teacher-parent collaboration (discussing ways to best support student).
The article “Collaborative Teacher Inquiry” from the Capacity Building Series outlines 7 characteristics of teacher Inquiry:
- Relevant → Student learning guides inquiry
- Collaborative → Teacher inquiry is a shared process
- Reflective → Actions are informed by reflection
- Iterative → Progressive understanding grows from cycles of inquiry
- Reasoned → Analysis drives deep learning
- Adaptive → Inquiry shapes practice and practice shapes inquiry
- Reciprocal → Theory and practice connect dynamically
There are correlations between my working definition of collaboration and these characteristics of teacher inquiry. Collaboration is relevant in that the individuals working together have a common goal; they both have something invested in the process, such as a teacher and parent both wanting the learner to succeed. This, in turn, makes it a very reciprocal experience as all individuals have something to contribute and/or gain from participating in the collaboration.
It was interesting to consider reflection as an ongoing part of the collaboration process, as we typically think of reflection as an action after the collaboration process has been completed. However, we know that learning is an ongoing process and therefore, there will be many moments of reflection throughout in order to guide future actions. It is especially important for educators to find time to reflect with each other, whether that be with another classroom teacher, Special Education teacher, administrator, educational assistant, or a consultant. “When engaged in collective reflective practice, teachers question, reason and probe ideas in order to push thinking of the group further” (Collaborative Teacher Inquiry, 2010, pg. 4).
After reflecting on my role as a leader in a school setting, I feel as though there are two main strengths that make me well equipped to be a math leader. While these leadership qualities may not be specific to the subject area of math, I believe that they are crucial skills for any leader to have.
The first leadership strength that I possess is approachability. A leader can only lead if others are willing to engage and/or collaborate with that person. I always want to make sure that people feel comfortable coming to me for support or advice. I make a conscious effort to check in with others, whether personally or professionally, to show that I care and I am here for them. My social circle within my staff team extends beyond my same-grade teaching partners, which is something that I am proud of. There have been times when Intermediate teachers have come to me for support when teaching a specific subject area, even though I am currently teaching in the Primary division. This is a true testament of the importance of being approachable; your age, experience, or grade level does not necessarily matter, as long as others know they can come to you for support!
My second leadership quality is my willingness to try new things. I believe that this is a crucial leadership skill because it models the importance of personal and professional growth, as well as an openness to making mistakes and failing. An expert is only an expert because they have tried something new, learned from it, and is now equipped to teach others. I am excited when learning new types of coding technology, such as online programs or physical robots. Sometimes, it’s the students who are teaching me, rather than the other way around! Is the learning experience always a smooth one? Absolutely not! But the only way to learn is to try… and try… and try again. My willingness to try new things also involves trying new teaching methods. Social pedagogies, such as a thinking classroom style of teaching/learning, took some time to adjust to, but has paid off greatly in my teaching practice.
A long term goal in which I feel I would be able to best utilize my leadership skills would be becoming my school’s math lead teacher. This role would allowed me to work under the direction of our school board’s math consultant, learning from them and providing math coaching on-site to teachers. I think this would be a valuable position in that it would help me to improve my own teaching practice, while also being able to support, learn from, and co-teach with my colleagues.
As I am on parental leave at the moment, I was not able to put my name forward to be our school’s math lead teacher for this school year. However, there are steps that I can take this year to prepare myself for this role in the future. It is important that I continue to check in with my fellow educators, especially on the topic of math (i.e., curriculum, instruction, best practices, types of assessments, etc.). Another short term goal would be sending out valuable resources to my staff as I come upon them. This would allow me to be an informal leader in my school before any formal position is assigned. Lastly, I will continue building upon my own competencies as a math teacher by continuing to seek professional development opportunities about teaching math.
A math concept that I am interested in doing a deep dive into is “coding skills”. While coding is something that some teachers have been informally teaching for many years, it is now officially a new addition to the math curriculum. My first experience with learning coding in the classroom was when I took a Grade 10 Computer Science class. I am thrilled that students as young as Grade 1 will now be learning coding skills and building upon them throughout their educational journey. I am interested in exploring the continuum of curriculum expectations throughout the elementary grades, discovering new resources, and developing more teaching strategies that I can incorporate into my own teaching practice and share with other teachers as a math leader.