August 17, 2016

Rather than jumping right into academic content, it pays to start the new year by creating an atmosphere where every student feels like they matter.


By Brianna Henneke Hodges

Quick! Name a goal of classrooms all across the United States for 2016-2107? Ding, ding, ding! To create a classroom of innovation. Teachers and administration alike are poring over the blogosphere and Twitterverse and attending conferences en masse to find this holy grail of transformation. And while there are innumerable treasures to be found in each resource, one very powerful ingredient in innovation is encouraging student voice in the classroom.

Think about it: When students feel safe to express their ideas and supported to take risks with their learning, we are able to transform the classroom from a place of instruction to a community of exchange, intrigue, and interaction.

Interested? The key to nurturing a culture of voice is establishing an environment of trust and respect. Here are some important considerations to ponder—and integrate into your classroom—at the start of the school year.


Angela Maiers’ 2011 Tedx Talk “You Matter” tells us that two words—YOU MATTER—“can change lives and can change the world.” She advocates for recognizing each person as a significant contributor to society; that each person deserves to be heard, seen, and cared for. With this, Maiers dares us to frame our interactions with our students by saying: “YOU are a genius and the world needs your contribution. What will you share with us today?”

I took this simple idea and presented it to my students. Using YOU MATTER as our galvanizing concept, we explored different ways to share their genius with the world. I created Padlet boards with conversation starters, including:

  • What’s your theme song? Pull a lyric or two that best describes you.
  • What cartoon character is most like you?
  • Name one skill that you are proud of. Create a hashtag to explain its significance.
  • Name one challenge that you are setting your sights on this year. Create a hashtag to explain its significance.  

The collaborative nature of Padlet allowed students to watch as each classmate added his or her post. Seeing all of the colors, fonts, and answers helped weave a tapestry of contributions. My students began to see their peers through different lenses. They began forming new appreciations for their gifts instead of focusing on right and wrong answers. To further encourage relationships, we all (myself included) commented on posts, drawing on similarities and providing kudos.

We’re All Gifted, Some Just Open Their Packages Differently

One of the important features of this activity is that it is outside “academic content.” So often, we limit the interactions of our students by restricting conversations to “school.” This puts their contributions into a box: they’re either good at math or not; it’s a right answer or not. If we learn more about their inspirations, influences, and ideas, we’re better able to appreciate their gifts. This is paramount when creating a culture of community. Students need to know (and believe) that you’re not going to silence them every time they make a comment or ask a question. How you respond (especially in the first weeks of school) sets the stage for the entire year. If you continually tell them they are wrong, they will begin to “not”: not try, not care, not learn. If you continually tell them to be quiet or ask fewer questions, they hear: “Your voice doesn’t matter.”

So how do we innovate? We encourage students to find a new approach to that which has always been done. We look for the unheard voice to rise above the crowd of contentment. We turn to the young people we serve daily and ask them to lead us.  Please- share your ideas! 

Brianna Henneke Hodges

Brianna Henneke Hodges

Brianna Henneke Hodges (@eduTECHtastic) is an educator, coach, and advocate for integrating instructional technology into the modern classroom to facilitate innovative learning experiences and prepare students for exposure outside of the classroom. A recipient of multiple education foundation grants, she has piloted the Blended Classroom, integrating 21st-century tools and web 2.0 technology into the teaching and learning process.

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