I have always been someone who had an opinion. I also probably shared my opinions far too often when I was young. I don’t remember being stifled too often, but it happened. I remember asking my Dad why one political party didn’t have someone from another political party in their cabinet. I figured if you wanted to help opposing parties to work together, let one of their best people be a cabinet minister (I am from Canada, we have cabinet ministers instead of secretaries – Minister of Finance vs. Secretary of Defense). He laughed at me, not in a mean way, and explained that this would never happen. The fact I remember that conversation shows you it had an impact on me. While 99.9% of the time my Dad supported my opinionated nature, that one time he didn’t really stuck with me.
Allowing our students to voice their opinions is an important part of the education process. When we value someone’s opinion we show them that we value them, and respect their ideas. We might not agree with what they are saying, but it is important we show them we value both their opinion and their willingness to share it.
In my school we have a big push for Inquiry, and for helping foster creativity and innovation in our students. For the first few weeks of this year my teaching partner and I have done a lot of work to have students share their opinions, their thoughts and their feelings through classroom conversations, through classroom activities and through reflective journaling. Yesterday, as I read through my student journals I found this:
“You know what? This is the only place in the world that everyone keeps asking me the same question – What’s your opinion? I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but I just find it kinda weird that’s all.”
It was this quote that inspired this post. I am glad that this student feels like we are looking for her opinion. It validates a lot of what we have done in the first few weeks. What I really took from this writing though was that the student felt it was weird that we were asking for her opinion.
I see a genuine connection between creativity/innovation and confidence. By hearing, valuing and validating our students opinions we send a message to them that we want to know what they have to say. We want them to voice their opinions, and we want them to feel ok when they find their opinion is unique or not supported by the masses. Creativity and innovation require people to put forth ideas, inquiry requires people who aren’t afraid to ask questions. This all starts with an environment that support students speaking up and being heard.
There is a lot of power in asking “What do YOU think?”, and a lot of the skills we want students to develop in the 21st century require us to foster their willingness to tell us.