Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council leads workshop for teachers on best engagement practices

As class was just getting underway, the instructor immediately caught students’ attention with his first instructions, “We’re going to start off with a personality test.”

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Although everyone in the room was a Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) student or staff member, this wasn’t your typical class.

The instructor was Reed Curtin, rising senior in the Mathematics & Science Academy at Ocean Lakes High School

The students were teachers from across various VBCPS sites. The objective of the two-hour class was to share with teachers—from a student’s perspective—how to create bridges and break down barriers that exist between high school students and teachers.

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And so, Curtin began their time together with a modified version of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey.

“The purpose of the test is to take a pulse of the class and to find out about learning styles and know when to mix students to achieve various objectives or to keep us together based on interests or strengths,” Curtin continued.

He was joined by three fellow Virginia Beach high school students—all who are part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC) and were teachers for a day. The SSAC is a workgroup of students, representing all high schools in the division, that meets together throughout the year with VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence to talk through division initiatives, the state of the schools as well as issues affecting students.

“(Student engagement) began as a student discussion last year in the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council when we presented students the core values and goals of the division,” said Akilah Ellison, professional learning specialist in the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation, which facilitates the SSAC. “This prompted big, creative ideas on how to make high school more engaging, particularly at a time when we’re competing with iPhones, social media and more.”

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“What it came down to was that students wanted to be engaged and feel a sense of belonging,” she added. “That’s what the course was about—harnessing student voice in the design of the learning environment.”

The voluntary professional development class, which was presented in an Ed Camp style, was filled with a variety of activities to engage teachers as students—everything from forming a circle and tossing a ball around to get to know everyone in the class to a guessing game that gets participants to share their passions, interests and strengths.

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Teachers, who were the students for the day, had an opportunity to write on a giant silhouette drawing their perceptions of a high school student as well as their aspirations for what they want that student to become at the end of the course.

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“The objective of the activities is two-fold: We as students can be afraid to approach teachers or other students. Knowing one another helps us feel comfortable,” said Hayley Cando, SSAC member and recent Kellam graduate. “We also hope that you implement some of the activities in the learning environment.

So what did the real teachers who were there as students think of the course?

“I had several takeaways: to always keep my students engaged, involved and up and moving doing different activities.” said Ocean Lakes High School teacher Shirley Hall, “Second, I loved the student illustration idea. I did something similar way back on what would make the perfect teacher for them. I also liked how they showed how you can motivate all students, even if it’s for a short time, by doing activities to get to know them. But the biggest thing was forming those positive student-teacher relationships.”

Even the SSAC student/teachers learned something as well.

“For me, today’s takeaway was that teachers are willing to listen to the students and they really want to hear what we have to say,” said Jeni Selph, 2016 graduate from Green Run High School. “It was definitely interesting seeing the two-way street.”

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