From state assessments to administrator evaluations, teachers receive feedback from a variety of places. This year Marshall Public Schools made sure student voices were part of that equation.

High school principal Jacob Sirna was tasked with putting together a panel of graduating seniors to discuss the highs and lows of their time in school during an all-district faculty meeting.

“We wanted it to be a group of students who were reflective of our student population, not just a who’s who,” said Sirna.

Seven graduating seniors ended up taking the stage in front of the district’s teachers. Sirna used some time between the end of the school day and the start of the meeting to lay down some ground rules for the students.

“I encouraged them to be honest, but I also asked them not to use this as a stage to grind an ax. I told them that if there were any concerns that might be a little specific or personal, that they should share those with me privately,” Sirna said.

As the moderator, Sirna asked a variety of questions of the panel.

“We asked them the greatest moment they could remember in Marshall Public Schools,” Sirna said. “That was really powerful because some students went back to elementary school or middle school with their stories. It was a feel-good kind of justification of some things that those teachers had worked really hard at in their career.”

The students also talked about what advice they would give their younger selves, what they would change from their educational experience and what advice they had for teachers.

“I think we as educators, and as adults in general, need to do a better job of all the time, getting that type of input from our students, the people we serve,” said Sirna.

When the planned questions didn’t fill the allotted time, the panel took questions from the audience.

“We weren’t planning on that, but it turned out to be a really effective piece as well. One memorable question from that was, ‘In all your time at school, what was the best book you read?’ That gave our students the chance to talk a little bit more about their educational experiences and who had motivated them, who put that book in their hands.”

Sirna says there were some valuable takeaways from the event.

“It was very useful at reinforcing some things. As the student highlighted some very memorable things from their academic careers, that reinforced and validated some things that teachers at the elementary, middle and high schools are doing,” Sirna said.

“Five of the seven students on stage said they would go back to their freshman year and give themselves advice to help themselves through high school,” Sirna said. “So, while none of them said, ‘you should do this differently,’ I think when you have that many who choose the same specific time, that’s pretty telling that we need to do more to assist those incoming ninth graders. There’s something about crossing the threshold and walking into the door of the high school that’s just a very different, scary, wonderful experience.”

Sirna admits there is some risk involved with asking students for their honest opinion.

“Even as wonderful as our students are, you never know what’s going to happen when you give someone a microphone in front of a group of people and ask them for advice or what they might change,” he said. “I was nervous, but put faith in the process and in the open mindedness of the staff at Marshall Public School, and it all worked out really well.”

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