In schools where students feel empowered, relationships are generally characterized by mutual respect and empathy, including peer and adult relationships.
Students exhibit a range of interpersonal and communication skills, acquired through positive, ongoing contact with supportive adults who know these interactions are learning opportunities. As a result, positive interactions and respectful communication between adults and students occur on a regular basis.
We can see students engaged in genuine conversation with adults, not simply answering questions or providing information but bringing issues that are important to them. They do so knowing they can share these and adults will listen and care. Body language expresses their trust and appreciation of adults, for example, through eye contact and a positive and relaxed interaction. Students demonstrate in a myriad of ways that they have come to expect that they will be respected.
When adults listen to kids in general I think it shows mutual respect. I think you need to know that you’re being listened to. Teachers don’t need to put a poster up outside their door, you don’t need that. You just need to show it.
When students feel empowered at school, their peer interactions share many of these same characteristics. We can observe incidences of peer support and collaboration, modelled by relationships among adults. Students demonstrate positive interpersonal skills in action: for example, respectful communication, listening and healthy expression of emotions. Power dynamics in student conversations tend toward egalitarianism: for example, students listen to each other and everyone has an opportunity to speak.
Of course, no human community is ever comprised of 100% healthy, equal relationships and schools are no exception. We have provided indicators; yardsticks with which to continuously measure the work achieved and yet to be accomplished.
A student said to me, "Your class is good but could be so much better". It’s so lovely he felt he could say that to me. We had great conversation about his concerns. He was a little bored. It can be hard to hear but any kid who says something like that has a reason. Instead of taking it as an insult, if you go deeper to find out what that reason is it’s interesting. It’s a huge compliment that he felt he could share that with me. He’s quite possibly speaking on behalf of a handful of students in that class.