–Occasional commentary by Robert E. Yager (NSTA President, 1982-1983)
Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students (CLASS) is a Professional Development (PD) effort for teachers operating throughout Indiana and several other States, including Iowa. One of the innovations tried was the use of students as part of school leadership teams; students at varying grade levels were called “Ambassadors,” and they met regularly with teachers and administrators to establish rules, work on problem resolutions, and outline efforts to improve learning in the school. The work began in elementary schools where principals and a set of elementary teachers conceived the power of student views and voices which could improve the school and enhance student learning for all. Student leaders were to work with CLASS teachers, school administrators, and parents to illustrate this new and important addition to “Distributed Leadership”.
Specific CLASS efforts have been tied to Iowa Chautauqua PD efforts. These have focused on success of school principals as critical players in accomplishing school reforms. The plan to include students as part of school leadership was added to the idea of “Distributed Leadership” with several specific PD efforts in Iowa. The Student Ambassadors in the Iowa Chautauqua arose from teacher needs to make all students more central to science projects—both individual and group efforts. Students were invited to be part of the leadership planned for schools where teachers have worked as collaborators with the Iowa Chautauqua learning teams for over three decades. Results in several Chautauqua sites have been most positive!
Great advantages can be observed when school principals are major partners in accomplishing the reform efforts. Significantly more successes have been continually observed when the ideas were tried in schools where principals were important and active partners. Many principals were quick to support the idea of adding students to leadership teams. In the Chautauqua Leadership Conferences each summer the Iowa Chautauqua PD Leadership was enlarged to include the involvement of teachers, administrators, counselors, school board members, and students selected in a few specific middle schools (Grades 6-8) in Iowa.
One of the earliest schools involved with Iowa Chautauqua was most successful in getting all science teachers involved with other teachers across all the disciplines comprising curriculum. The teacher team worked with a specific group of students and used projects and issues that became the organizers for learning. They were not tied to each major discipline for typical 50 minute class sessions each day. The principals of three middle level schools were impressed with the results when told of the CLASS Student Ambassador program. They were interested in the specific results and wanted to see what could happen in their buildings. The teachers were already on board and knew of the features that define constructivist learning. The most impressive aspect was involving students first in all aspects of learning; students, teachers, and administrators were ready to try the CLASS Student Ambassador effort!
When the Ambassador program was tried successfully in Iowa with middle level students, results were collected by graduate student assistants. Results from one year included: 1) over half of the students reported science as being their most interesting class; 2) 70% of the grades 6-8 students reported that the Ambassadors performed as needed “partners”; 3) 60% of the students liked that Ambassadors worked together across the grade levels and sought out examples from other Ambassadors; 4) 60% were anxious to help students in other schools and share the advantages of student leadership; 5) more were anxious to add their own personal views after the Ambassador Program had been tried and used.
All principals involved with the inclusion of students in the school leadership were excited; they were anxious to share the experiences with others. All teachers were positive about the effectiveness of having Student Ambassadors as part of school leadership. They noted that the whole school and in many instances the whole community benefited. Learning was enhanced!
–Robert E. Yager
Professor of Science education
University of Iowa
Image courtesy of Eugena Ossi/Governor Deval Patrick’s Office.