By Louisiana Fellow Kristy Brumley
A student’s voice can be his or her most powerful weapon for helping shape the future. Unfortunately, the true voice of many students is seldom heard. That voice - the protected inner expression that whispers of a student’s dreams, aspirations, and fears - is often discouraged in the traditional school setting. According to Quaglia and Corso (2014), students at the secondary level have less opportunity to offer opinions and participate as leaders in meaningful ways than their elementary counterparts. This finding is alarming. Just as a student is reaching his or her prime in the educational spectrum, educators are failing students by neglecting to fully equip them with the skills needed to thrive in a 21st century workplace.
The world of work has changed. Gone are the days of spending “x” amount of years studying a skilled craft or professional program to arrive on the job and know it inside and out. Successful 21st century businesses need employees who can adapt to changing needs, juggle complex responsibilities, and learn new ways to solve new problems. Twenty-first century work realities call for organized systems of people of who come equipped with knowledge of core subjects not to mention people who have honed information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills. In essence, jobs of the future require leaders who can self-direct, who willingly exercise personal accountability, who are life-long learners, and who can exercise social responsibility among the interests of the larger community.
Are these work demands too far-fetched to fathom instilling them into the greater educational context? Of course, they aren’t. But to do so, educators have to possess these very skills and model them for students. Educators must see beyond the outer shell and help students discover their true potential. I can personally attest to the strength of such an educator. My reality is uniquely painted with a background of adversity and statistics indicating that I should have been a high school dropout. The reason I’m not, the reason that I thrived is because of an emphatic teacher who believed in the value of my “inner voice.” Mrs. Sepulvado began a journey of truly “hearing” me in the second grade. She continued to listen and advise well beyond my formative years in her elementary class. Ultimately, she inspired me because she listened. She inspired me because she cared. She inspired me because she was a forward-thinking educator who knew the potential of allowing her students to be heard.
Ultimately, to prepare students for roles in the 21st century workplace, educators must be willing and capable to demonstrate empathy and understanding and seek out the unique perspectives and voices of all students. To become leaders of change who can tolerate ambiguity and thrive in team settings, students must be taught to share the thoughts of that secret, inner voice. Students must be taught to let go of insecurities and fears of ridicule. Students must be taught that their ideas, aspirations, and questions are valid and are worthy of being heard. Only then, will today’s students become tomorrow’s 21st century leaders.
As I reflect on these realities and the challenges ahead, I am honored to be a part of the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship, a diverse group of educators who have been charged with rewriting a course to immerse students into the skills of the future. I’m excited that our collective efficacy will assimilate in a way that mirrors the future expectations of our students. Although the task is a large undertaking, I have faith that our efforts will make a difference in the lives of students. Furthermore, I am encouraged by the possibilities of an education in which all students are “heard.”