Engaging student voice for a deeper understanding of culture and climate perceptions

A recent study by Transforming Education, conducted in partnership with NewSchools Venture Fund, suggests that across 18 innovative and diverse charter schools located throughout the country, students report having very different experiences within the same school based on a student survey of the school culture and climate. The study found that student experiences of the school environment, such as students’ relationships with their teachers, students’ sense of belonging, and students’ feelings of safety, tend to vary by students’ grade-level and racial/ethnic background. For example, the study found that students of color often perceive lower levels of safety than their white peers within the same school and grade-level. As such, it is vital to go beyond aggregated survey results when interpreting and taking action on the data. In fact, recent policy recommendations from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) indicate the importance of breaking down school survey results by demographic subgroups in order to attend to issues of equity.

Beyond exploring survey results by student demographics and grade-level, school leaders can further unpack trends in survey data by engaging in conversations with students about the survey results. Doing so can help school leaders (a) better understand how individual students in the school are experiencing the culture and climate of the school; (b) further contextualize those data; and (c) engage students in decisions about where to provide additional school climate-related resources and supports.

Below, we’ve provided several tools that school leaders and other educators can use to engage in conversations with students about school climate survey results. We highlight how to use these tools to answer questions drawn from trends in the student culture and climate data.

Student conversation facilitation resources from WestEd’s Speak Out, Listen Up! Tools for using student perspectives and local data for school improvement (based on their work with Washoe County School District) – This resource, developed in collaboration with Washoe County School District, guides educators through tools they can use to collect and analyze data with and from students to better understand students’ perspectives on school-related topics. It includes the following tools:

Analyzing Surveys with Kids (ASK) Tool – This tool provides step-by-step directions and materials for teaching students how to summarize tabulated or graphically displayed data and convert those data into narrative statements. Then, through facilitated small and whole-group activities, students learn to interpret the data by exploring the results from their viewpoints, generating possible explanations, and making recommendations for improving the situations described by the data. ASK also provides opportunities for students to work jointly with educators to use results and recommendations to plan for and participate in action steps.

Inside-Outside Fishbowl Tool – This tool provides instructions for a special kind of focus group, in which students and educators trade roles as speakers and listeners during a facilitated discussion of an issue related to school improvement and then jointly develop and carry out a plan of action.

Students Studying Students’ Stories – This tool provides instructions for facilitating a digital storytelling process in which students conduct interviews of other students, develop and produce videos about a school-related topic or problem, and host forums that lead to suggestions for improvement. It can be used to dive deeper into questions that emerge from data by empowering students to conduct research with their peers about these questions and present findings to the school community themselves.

We recommend that you use the tools above to answer questions drawn from trends you spot in your student culture and climate data.  Sample questions are provided below and can be modified for any of the indicators that warrant a closer look. Some of these questions have been adapted from YouthTruth’s Learning from student voice: What do students have to say about school culture?

  • Do you think these data reflect the experiences of students at your school?
  • Which data points seem most relevant? Can you share more about what this looks and feels like at your school?
  • Which data points seem most surprising? Why was that surprising to you?
  • What is one thing your school could try this year to improve school culture?
  • What does it mean to feel like you belong [culture/climate indicator of focus] at this school? Can you share an example of a time you felt like you were a valuable member of the school community [definition of indicator]?
  • What strategies and resources are available if you see a student that might not be feeling like they belong here?

Inviting students’ perspective, voice, and input is essential to building a holistic understanding of their survey data. Recognizing students as agents in their learning community can communicate the message that they are valued members and have the power to enact change, not only by sharing their perspectives but by generating transformative ideas. Making room for student agency at this level can drive change towards a more positive and inclusive school culture and climate. Learn more about ways to foster student agency in our resource developed alongside educators from our NewSchools partnership.

By |2019-06-20T15:18:38-04:00June 20, 2019|

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