It is important for students to demonstrate ownership over their learning communities, writes Jennifer Barnett, a veteran teacher and technology integration specialist. In this article, she offers seven ways educators can help students take ownership at school. Among the ideas are to give students the freedom to imagine possibilities, invite students to help craft the school’s identity, allow students to host visitors at school and give students more information than they may need rather than too little. 

We hear it all the time. “Students should take ownership of their school.” But how do we make that happen?

Last spring, my colleagues and I began the process of transforming Childersburg High School (CHS), which serves nearly 500 students in rural Talladega County, Ala., with a sharp focus on college and career readiness. Many changes were primarily about pedagogy and learning tools: the instructional shift to a project-based learning curriculum; the addition of advanced placement courses and honors pathways to increase academic rigor; the addition of desktop computers, Smart Boards, and networked printers to all classrooms; and a course-management system to facilitate the new digital environment. Good stuff.

But the best part of this transformation has been the dramatic shift in school culture. It’s true: Students at our school demonstrate their ownership of their learning community each and every day. I pinch myself often, just to make certain that I’m not dreaming. Here are some strategies that worked for us—and may work for you.

Challenge Students to Dream

Our student leadership team visited schools with progressive academic programs and strong school cultures—and met the student leaders at these schools. These exchanges were really important.

When students were processing what they’d seen and heard, I prompted them with questions at first. But soon the students caught on, realizing that we really did want them to imagine the possibilities!

Back at school, students compiled a list of everything they liked and a separate list of what would fit in their school. At this point, they had to decide what they needed most from their school. (Tip: Take plenty of time to do this. This is not an end-of-the-day, 10-minute activity!)

Next, students shared their ideas with the faculty, presenting a prioritized list of changes that would make their school what they needed. We revisit this list often—it serves as a catalyst for continued progress.

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