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Learning at its Best

What Students Actually Want in Their School

Over the summer, when David Loitz sent out a request for Imagining Learning Listening Session planners, I said, “Why not?” and agreed to organize one. Months later, after numerous emails back and forth between David, Charles Kouns (the founder of Imagining Learning) and Mr. Bo Adams (my old teacher, who was helping me put it all together), I filled out my consent to be recorded form and knew that the day was finally here.

On November 15, I arrived at Unboundary for the “Listening Session,” full of energy, but unsure of what to expect. I’d heard that a Listening Session was an opportunity to share ideas on what we, as students, imagined school should be. What I found was a fun, small, thoughtful community, bursting with ideas and jokes and smiles. With 6 other students from schools around the metro Atlanta area, led by Mr. Kouns and his partner, Stella Humphries, we started the process of cultivating ideas.

Personally, I hadn’t been so sure how easily 6 strangers and I would interact over topics that lots of people shy away from. But as soon as we started the first round of sharing our responses to 8 journal questions, Mr. Kouns had created, I could tell this was going to be something special and exciting. On some questions, our answers were extremely varied, on others (including the unlikely question who was your favorite person as a child), the answers were repetitive, creating connections between us.

The second part of the listening session involved telling a story about something you heard (or read) that influence the way you live your life. Here, the experiences were all over the board, but the underlying ideas were pretty similar. Things that stuck in our heads were those that motivated us, pushed us to keep going, or to get back up when we fall.

The final part of the listening session definitely made us all come closer. Stella led us on our education journey, in our heads, which was to help us collect and roughly visualize all our thoughts. After that, we split into two groups to collectively brainstorm our ideas of what we wanted in an ideal school and how we visualized that happening. To share our thoughts, we “immortalized” our visuals on paper, painting, drawing and sponge-ing our school to life.

Below are photos of our “masterpieces”- the tree that contains the values that group deemed most necessary in a school and the “No Boundaries” Roller-Coaster school . One of my teammates remarked that, “he had never felt prouder of something he’d made.”

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A big thanks to Mr. Loitz, Mr. Kouns, Ms. Humphries, and Mr. Adams for first and foremost, listening, and for all the work that you do to help make school a place where all children want to go.

I had a great time at the listening session. I gleaned lots of new ideas on what other students actually want in their schools and made new friends in the process. I’m excited to potentially organize one again.

Here are a few links if you are interested in learning more about Imagining Learning or Listening Sessions.

-Imagining Crowdfunding Campaign
Imagining Learning’s website
Imagining Learning on Facebook
– Charles Kouns’ TEDxKatuah talk: “Listening for the Wisdom of Young People”
– Mr. Adam’s two wonderful blog posts on the Listening Session
1.Empathy. Listening Sessions. Imagining Learning.

2. “How do we educate young people to thrive in a world of possibility?” #ImaginingLearning #ListeningSession @Unboundary


8 thoughts on “What Students Actually Want in Their School

  1. While its unquestionably vitally important to engage children on what form education should take, sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t reframe our questions somewhat. For example: If we ask, ‘What do you wish school was like?’, its only natural to think of school as it is and try and tweak things for improvement e.g. ‘more playtime’, ‘more field trips’. But what if we asked ‘What do you wish your life was more like? Or how would your ideal day be spent?’ We start closer to the heart of where a child or learner is coming from. Some people might say – ‘well then, you’ll get silly answers like “I’d like to sit in front of the tv in my PJs watching cartoons all day”‘ But silliness is very useful creative tool. From here we can say ‘well how would you like to learn about animation or drawing, or to write your own stories like in the cartoons. We can work on ways to make education more relaxed and thus more creative.”

    By listening to what kids think they would ideally like, rather than how they would tweak their current experience, we can move closer to what they need.

    Posted by bernardtullassa | November 23, 2012, 12:32 pm
  2. I spent several lunch periods asking students, “What do you look for in your best teachers?” When I started, I imagined that I was going to get a lot of nonsense answers, but I didn’t. Their answers mirrored what we look for when we hire teachers.

    We’ve included a student-teacher roundtable as part of our professional development day and we’ve invited recent graduates back for another listening session. As educators, we must be willing to listen to our students. We must look at schooling from their perspectives if we want to postively impact their lives.

    Posted by Reed Gillespie (@rggillespie) | November 25, 2012, 9:47 am
  3. Could you share more of the journal questions? I’m always looking for questions that help bridge making activities into reflecting activities into acting activities.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 27, 2012, 3:10 pm


  1. Pingback: OTR Links 11/20/2012 « doug – off the record - November 20, 2012

  2. Pingback: Student Voice - March 10, 2013

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