5 Ways to Center Student Leadership

During the pandemic, high school students stepped up. They navigated remote learning, cared for…

By Hana Beach

During the pandemic, high school students stepped up. They navigated remote learning, cared for each other during tough times, and took action to dream and shape a better future. Now, as we work to rebuild and rethink high school in the wake of COVID-19, student voice and choice is more important than ever. Our XQ Design Principle of the month this January is meaningful and engaged learning—and we know that when students get to take the lead, their motivation and engagement soars. This week’s resources will help you celebrate and center student leadership in your classroom. Let’s get started!

No one understands the challenges and needs of high school students better than high school students themselves—especially at this unprecedented moment.
Why It Matters: Peer networks have been shown to improve students’ social and emotional wellness, academic success, and college and career readiness. Students have leaned on each other to get through the unique experience of going to high school during a pandemic. Now, build on those support networks through:

  • Peer tutoring
  • Multi-grade cohorts dedicated to specific goals, like college readiness
  • Students trained as peer counselors
  • Near-peer mentorships between high schoolers and recent graduates

Extra Credit: Student Advice on Centering Mental Health by Welcoming Students as They Are

The pandemic was a crash-course in giving students direction over their own learning, and that shift is here to stay. 

Why It Matters: When students have agency in what and how they learn, engagement and outcomes soar. Remote learning shifted classroom roles in a dramatic way. Now that we’re back in class, build on what went well to give students ownership over their learning. Consider:

  • Incorporating flexible work time into your class schedule
  • Holding office hours where students set the agenda
  • Mapping day-to-day learning onto students’ larger goals

Extra Credit: What is Student-Centered Learning and Why is it Important?

When six teen girls organized a 10,000 person protest in Nashville calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism, they were just one incredible example of high school students taking the lead to shape a better future.

Why It Matters: Amidst the challenges of the pandemic and calls for racial justice, young people have been at the forefront of movements for change. Empower students by helping them explore their visions for a better future. To encourage student activism:

Extra Credit: How Youth Climate Activist Jerome Foster II Became the Voice for One Million Young People

As you adapt your classroom around the lessons of virtual learning, prioritize student voice to make change that sticks. 

Why It Matters: The pandemic forced schools and teachers to make a lot of big changes fast. We saw that those changes were the most successful when leaders incorporated student feedback from the very start. Involve student voice through:

  • Regular surveys
  • Holding office hours
  • Involving students in evaluating changes
  • Gathering feedback consistently, not just once

Extra Credit: What Student Activists Want Teachers To Know About Virtual Learning and Reopening Schools

Don’t let the challenges of learning loss take away from how much students learned, grew, and persevered during the pandemic, both in and out of the classroom. 

Why It Matters: What were the bright spots of the last two years for your students? Did they pick up a new hobby? Take on a new role in their community? Discover something about themselves? Asking these questions highlights students’ creativity and ingenuity, so they can bring their whole selves to the classroom. Value student knowledge with:

  • Opportunities for students to teach each other
  • Storytelling projects
  • Assignments based on student interests outside of class

Extra Credit: How to Develop Leadership Skills as a Student (Advice From a College Student)

Pilot our new and initiative curriculum, XQ Math. This program gives students more opportunities to show their leadership and creativity in their math classrooms. 

Seven new programs give students the chance to solve problems about issues in the real world. No longer are students given arbitrary examples like toting around 50 apples, but they get to explore environmental issues using data analysis, plan for a financial decision by designing an algebraic model, and animate the exponential growth in a tweet going viral. 

If you would like to help us reimagine Algebra 1, sign up here.