I have a confession to make. When I was a teenager, I was addicted to daytime talk shows. Don’t pretend you weren’t. I watched them all. Trigger warning this blog will reveal my age, but yes, I watched Sally Jesse, Oprah, and Phil Donahue. These shows included celebrity interviews, politics, music, fashion and so much more. But my favorite topic had to do with issues dealing with teenagers. Why? Because I was a teen. These programs showcased everyday issues teenagers faced. Frequently these issues were provocative and emotional, I mean it was daytime TV. Discussions included topics such as eating disorders, teen pregnancy, and drug addiction. These topics were always approached from the perspective of providing insight into how to aid teens in making healthier choices, resisting negative pressures, and avoiding risky behaviors.
No one else seemed to really focus on the things that were affecting those under 25, but these daytime talk shows at least brought these issues into the light. Although many of these shows or episode topics were tailored to a younger audience, they lacked an essential element, the voices and perspective of those people most impacted.
Often these episodes focused on what adults’ thought young adults were thinking, feeling, believing, and/or doing. I vividly remember yelling at the TV, “just ask a teenager,” just ask them what they think, feel, believe, and/or did.
As fantastical as it may seem, this was the beginning of my understanding for the need to make sure that student voice is heard. These sentiments continue to resonate with me today.
So often the very people whose needs we are trying to meet are the ones whose voices are absent.
I think as adults we assume we know more, we know best, we know better, that we are the experts. I feel that this comes from a deficit mindset. We often don’t see the wealth of knowledge that our children, teens and young adults bring into our spaces and the richness of cultural knowledge that strengthens them and supports them in their growth and understanding. We as adults need to learn to let go of what we consider to be power. Our true power comes from building relationships with our students and making space to hear their stories and experiences, so that we can be more knowledgeable and prepared to meet their needs.
I remember as a student some of my strongest relationships were with adults who were curious about me as an individual, who asked me questions, and sought out my opinion. For me, those were the adults who recognized that as a student I knew better than the adults around me how my experiences were impacting me, and that I could be looked at as an expert on my own feelings, experiences, and perspectives. In partnership with those adults within my educational spaces, we were able to develop a plan that could be used to support my educational success.
As an equity trainer, I endeavor to move the people I support towards a deeper understanding of student voice, how to create a safe space where our children can be heard, a community wherein all voices are respected and valued, and ultimately a community of belonging.