By Theresa Kelly Gegen
This issue of the Illinois School Board Journal aims to improve conversations. In these pages you will find encouragement and methods to lift your own voice, and also discover ways to better listen to the voices of others — students, peers, and the community.
Across the nation, conversation is in crisis. Boards of education are facing conflict: during public comment, on social and traditional media, at the proverbial but unavoidable “grocery store conversations,” during student protests, parent protests, and community protests. Issues that boards of education have previously found routine have been contorted and magnified. Issues that have never before been board work are on the table.
And tensions run high. If you, as a board member, are feeling this, you are not alone. Remember why you started, remember your goals, and understand that it’s not personal.
When presented with a conversational challenge, deploy critical thinking skill questions: Who is most directly affected? What is another perspective? Where can we get more information? When would this be a solution, and when would it cause a problem? Why is this relevant to our work? And how does this help us meet our goals?
Civil discourse, as defined for our purposes, is “conversation intended to improve understanding.” Read more about the continuous course of civil discourse in “From Boardroom, to Classroom, and Back,” starting on page 16.
On page 20, learn about how “the landscape continues to shift for elected officials and the public institutions they oversee, and the public taxpayers they represent,” in a piece by Patrick Mogge entitled “A Time to Reflect and Reconnect.”
Conversation may be in crisis, but today’s students are more adept at this than we give them credit for — indeed, they are better at this than we are. We can learn from them in unexpected ways.
A 2022 IASB webinar, “Student Voices on K-12 Education in Illinois,” featured members of the Student Advisory Council of the Illinois State Board of Education. The group of impressive students and IASB staff discussed, among other things, their engagements with their boards of education. As the students discussed appreciating the ability to contribute to the conversation, one student took the next logical step.
“Hearing voices is not the same as implementing ideas,” said Araha Uday, then a senior at Schaumburg High School in Township HSD 211.
As thoroughly as we encourage listening, Uday is correct. Hers is a next-step lesson in conversation that students bring to the table. Uday and her cohort were able to bring their voices to the table, contributing valid ideas, and the district used their ideas to respond to challenges within the schools.
Uday wasn’t talking about board work, but we can apply her comment to the governance team.
Discover more on student voice by reading “ Amplifying Student Voice with a Seat at the Table,” by Jadon A. Waller from CUSD 308 in Oswego, starting on page 10. If your district has an experience with student voice that you’d like to share, please reach out. We hope to continue this conversation in a future issue of the Journal.Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can view the “Student Voices” webinar via the resources link at iasb.com/journal/.