Pupils’ “ownership” of their school

Some very interesting investigations have been done into employee engagement. Employees who engage properly with the company and its business work considerably longer, harder and more effectively than those who do not engage, who just do the work without engagement. They have fewer days off sick and will enthuse about the company to customers and recommend it to friends. Unfortunately in a typical company maybe only 20% of the employees are engaged, the rest just doing the job but not putting energy and excitement into it. Occasionally you come across a company where the majority of employees are engaged and it really shows in the level of help and service that you get.

People like to belong to an organisation that they see as worthwhile and that values them. It’s not only about what an organisation can give to you, it’s about what you can give to the organisation.

Teachers and schools know this and do a lot to engage pupils with school life. But there are limits to the activities that can be organised, to engage pupils beyond classes. Putting on the school play and running sports teams is a heavy load on teachers. There is a limit to the spaces available that pupils can use for clubs, and a limit to display space to applaud pupils.

But online space to engage pupils is effectively limitless. Many pupils have the ability to design and build online spaces and moderation of these by teachers before they go live need not be time consuming. Indeed trusted pupils might do this moderation.

What kinds of things are we talking about? This might be a matter of parts of the school website, or linked websites, or areas of the school’s learning platform. The various platforms have different capabilities to design and build engaging online areas, but all have basic forum and storage areas, if not galleries and ability to design pages.
• A secondary school allows pupils to set up school-wide forums. The topics put up are moderated (by a team of pupils, calling on a teacher if necessary), but with a light touch as this is an area for the pupils to talk about things they want to. And of course there are the expected debates about school uniform policies and food at lunchtimes. But recently one pupil started a topic “Can you believe in God when things like the Haiti earthquake happen?”. There were hundreds of replies, some very insightful expressing internal debates pupils were having with themselves in coming to terms with religion. And it was noticeable when the teacher managing the system analysed at who had replied, that several of the school’s ‘hard to engage’ students had been active in the debate.
• Two pupils are given an hour’s help on how to design pages in the school’s learning platform one Friday. By the following Monday there is a several page area built and ready to go live, to promote the school’s Duke of Edinburgh Award activities and to applaud those students taking part and gaining awards.
• When it comes time to elect the school Head Boy and Head Girl, all the candidates are asked to post their manifestos and pictures into an area of the school's online platform that all the pupils can see. Voting is conducted online and on that day virtually every pupil accesses the online area to see what the candidates are saying and to vote.
• A space is created in the class area of a primary school’s platform, for pupils keen on reading to post reviews of the books they have read. With only a bit of stimulus from the teacher this becomes a game that most of the class want to play. They want their review to be seen by the rest of the class. And the amount of leisure time reading increases considerably.
• A local authority runs a design and technology competition. By creating an online gallery where pupils can comment on and vote for designs and products they like, the competition is promoted much more widely and those with designs on show feel much more famous.
• A school decides to make it possible for pupils to report bullying and other problems online, with a ‘report-it’ button in the school’s online platform. They arrange that the first response to reports is by a group of pupils who have been trained about online safety. Knowing that this group of pupils is responsible for this important school activity gives all the pupils a greater sense that the school is their community, and they feel much safer because of what these pupils are doing to help others.
• A primary school encourages the pupils to put their work online through the visualiser and to record themselves talking about how they did the work and why they did it the way they did. The images and the MP3 recordings are then available for the rest of the class to see and to talk about. And available for the teacher to discuss and assess with the pupil.
• A secondary school realises that the teachers are going to need help creating departmental websites. So they advertise for pupils to take on roles in a ‘business’ they set up. Some of the pupils discuss with the teachers what the needs are, specify the online areas needed and assemble the resources and links, some pupils build the actual pages and design them to be engaging.

I’m sure you get the point from these examples.

It sounds such a good idea you wonder why all schools are not using their digital environment in these kinds of ways.

The answers of course are all ‘people issues’ - trust, fear, vision, control.