What Does Success Look Like? Here's a Hint... Ask the Students!

James Layman, Director, AWSL
May 20, 2024

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The Association of Washington Student Leaders (AWSL) has had the honor and privilege of partnering with schools to augment their school culture and climate. AWSL has long-standing programs, camps, and workshops where schools load students up and bring them to our regional programs or one of our many summer camp locations. Many people might not know that AWSL will come to you. That's right, we'll bring a personalized program  your school for your students and/or staff! 

Student Voice Summits

One program that has gained steam and momentum has been our Student Voice Summits! These summits have been crafted to lead students through an experience where they recognize and utilize their expertise and 'voice' to address all aspects of their school culture and climate. 

AWSL has used the phrase, "Students are the experts at being students." That phrase has not been used as a cute marketing play; it's been used because it's true. Who better to speak about school policies, initiatives, and all aspects of the school experience than our students? From Kindergarten on up, they know what is working and what isn't working and, when given the opportunity, can provide reasonable and realistic plans to address them. Here's the kicker: magic happens when students get the opportunity to do this work alongside their adults. 

Our Summits Focus on Three Components: Who? What? Now What?


Building community (and trust) amongst participants is crucial to creating an effective foundation for sharing (for both students and adults). No matter the size of the school, it is easy to settle into "We all know each other." Before participants can get honest about their experiences, taking the time to build a community is necessary. We hope that schools select a diverse group of students and staff to participate. Getting unique perspectives from all pockets and corners of the school is imperative to making positive changes in our schools. 


What do you love? We then begin to organize our work around the "what." Before discussing school growth opportunities, we highlight what students and staff love about their current school environment. If we don't know what is going well, we can't protect, highlight, or ensure it stays positive. 

This year, a student shared that "the school bus" was something they loved about the school experience. They explained that "it was predictable and always on time." There is so much to unpack from one beautiful sentiment. We know that the school bus and driver are the student's connection to the school. We can gather that perhaps that student craves (and needs) predictability and structure, and that bus driver may be one of the most important adults in that student's life. Imagine if we could gather that much data from all our students. It was also illuminating for the other students and staff in the room, who had not thought about the importance of our school buses and their positive impact on students. This led to a beautiful conversation with many "ah-has" and "I never thought about that before" moments. 

Another school this year had students share how the school and staff gave them a home. The intentional actions of the principal gave the students a sense of purpose and pride and how the staff not only saved but changed their lives. Imagine getting that type of feedback from your students. Imagine your community hearing about the positive impact of what is happening in your school. That is the power of these summits. 

After building the love list, let's keep up the momentum. My middle school track coach told our team, "It's one thing to have momentum, but it's another to maintain it." The same is true with positive school culture and climate. The magic comes from asking, "What is the student's role, and what is the adult's role in maintaining the love list?" Students get real and honest and provide incredible action steps they and the adults can COLLABORATIVELY take to create the most incredible school experience for students and adults. 

From there, we pivot and shift our focus to "What is not on our love list but should be?" Much different frame than, "What sucks about our school..." It's framed with love at the center. It's framed by focusing on what is going well and how to work together to push everything we do and what we love about our school. Students and staff get it! These conversations have been powerful and poignant in every school we have been to. Students and staff interact and learn from each other during these conversations, and while yes they are taking part in a summit, they also develop empathy for each other. 

Now What?

So... now what? AWSL then presents our Action Plan to students and staff. Our Action Plan combines the AWSP Framework, Project Planning, Belonging, immediate/short-term/long-term goals, and asking the most critical question, "What does success look like?" If we don't know what success looks like, sounds like, and feels like for students and staff, we may be directing our time and energy in ways that are not conducive to achieving our desired outcomes. Listening to students say, "If we just did this......, it would solve everything." Then, we get to use our adult positionality to work with them to achieve those goals. I have listened to students share how to fix parking lot issues, behavior issues, engagement issues, bullying and harassment issues, belonging and inclusion issues, and how to welcome incoming students holistically. 

As you think about next school year, and the type of culture and climate you want to push front and center, make sure students are active in the collaboration. "Nothing for us, without us" has been a phrase used by AWSL for years, and now is the time to think about how to weave and incorporate student voice into your practices. Let AWSL support you in this important work. Your students are worth it. Your staff is worth it. Your community is worth it, and YOU are worth it. 

Learn More About AWSL Programs

  • Student Voice
  • AWSL
  • Student Leadership (AWSL)
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