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Educators Advocating for Youth Voice

Hello everyone.  I’m Diana Medina, Program Director at The Practice Space. This post discusses our inaugural Youth Voice Advocates cohort and resources available to educators to support student engagement during distance learning.

For the last year, educators have been on the front lines of pivoting to distance learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I continue to be in awe of the level of dedication, creativity, and ingenuity educators have been using to create new virtual learning containers for their students amidst so much uncertainty. The current world of online learning has elevated one concern clearer than ever before: how do we keep students engaged and get them talking in virtual classrooms? To tackle this and many other issues, we recently launched our inaugural Youth Voice Advocates Cohort.

Our Youth Voice Advocates Cohort is designed to support educators in learning how to integrate more speaking and listening routines that promote student engagement, English Language Development, and student leadership opportunities into their classroom, no matter the medium.

Schools need educators who know how to facilitate diverse perspectives, learn from different experiences, care about human beings, listen without an agenda, and make meaningful room for youth voice in their classrooms. Our Youth Voice Advocates Cohort is designed to support educators in learning how to integrate more speaking and listening routines that promote student engagement, English Language Development, and student leadership opportunities into their classroom, no matter the medium. This includes how to facilitate debates, storytelling activities, and advocacy presentations. Our Youth Voice Advocates Cohort is designed to support educators in learning how to integrate more speaking and listening routines that promote student engagement, English Language Development, and student leadership opportunities into their classroom, no matter the medium.

This inaugural cohort of Youth Voice Advocates is composed of educators teaching all grade  levels and subject matters. What unites them is that they are all working on the front lines of advancing equity through youth voice in traditional and virtual classrooms. As one of our cohort members states, “So much is happening in the U.S. and in the world right now.  Students need tools to articulate what is happening and how it affects them and their families.” Our program is designed to address this need by equipping educators with strategies, tools, plans, and activities to incorporate storytelling, self-advocacy, presentation, and debate in a range of subject areas and grades. This includes learning how to promote social and emotional learning through storytelling as well as the fundamentals of debate-centered instruction.

Through this inaugural Youth Voice Advocates Cohort, our hope is to support more teachers to gather students on “virtual carpets” to create moments for authentic expression in their classrooms.

When I think of what it means to be a Youth Voice Advocate, I think of my first grade teacher,  Mrs. Warner. As a first grader, I was precocious with a big imagination. One day in March of 1990, I ignored my homework assignments and decided I was going to write a book. I snuck into my dad’s office, opened his file cabinet, and helped myself to 4 tan file folders. I brought it to school the next day to finish the final pages. Mrs. Warner quickly caught me off task. I tried to hide my masterpiece in my desk. She asked me to give it to her and I was certain I was going to get in trouble. My little book was called “SpringTime is Here,” a story about a bunny and a deer who spent their day smelling flowers in a field. Mrs Warner examined each page carefully while I nervously waited for my punishment. She told my classmates to put their pencils down, gather on the carpet, and asked me to come to the front of the room with her. Then she said, “Boys and girls, I have a special announcement. We have an author in our class.” She proceeded to read my book to the class and led us in a discussion about what we love about spring time. She asked me to share what inspired my story and got my classmates to come up with other adventures my characters could go on. Then we went back to our desks and continued to work on our math assignment. She put my makeshift book with a shoelace spine on display in the class library right next to Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking. That was it. No punishment, just a lively discussion that I have never forgotten. 

This moment of affirmation that Mrs. Warner gave me that day made me feel safe, seen, valued, and heard. Rather than discipline me for being off task, she made space for me and my classmates to talk, share, and imagine together. She made space for us to practice using our voices. Looking back, that whole discussion probably took no more than 15 minutes and yet the impact of it has stayed with me my whole life. While today’s teachers don’t have the option of gathering students on the carpet in distance learning, they do have the ability to create similar moments for meaningful conversations and connection. Many students deeply miss and need these moments as a result of being home and learning in front of screens. Through this inaugural Youth Voice Advocates Cohort, our hope is to support more teachers to gather students on “virtual carpets” to create similar moments for authentic expression in their classrooms. By learning and receiving support from a combination of expert coaches and a community of like-minded peers we want to share what is possible. We know there are many, many more Mrs. Warners in the world who believe in the power of student voice and have a desire to create small moments that make big changes in their students’ lives. 

In addition to this cohort, The Practice Space remains committed to providing open source tools and supports to as many educators as possible. Other resources we provide include our free, open source Leaders That Listen Public Speaking Curriculum, our Educator Facebook Group Educators for Youth Voice, and upcoming workshops and programming. We welcome educators from all walks of life and contexts to connect with us via these resources so that together we can create more transformational moments for youth to use their voice and feel heard. 

For more information about our educator programs or to bring these resources to your school please contact us at: admin@practice-space.org

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