Listening to Students and Shifting the Narrative

Recently the EdSystems team, like many others around the country, have been making it a priority to pay closer attention to what students have to say about our work, our goals, our successes and shortcomings. As we continue our trudge through all that is causing our current upheavals while also reckoning with long-standing inequities, it’s increasingly clear that we as educators (and adults, and parents, and humans) don’t have all the answers. We need students’ insights and assistance to make things better. We have to listen to them.

Over the coming months you’ll hear more from us about what we’re learning from students, but in the meantime, I want to highlight an exciting initiative underway in Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Competency-Based Education (CBE) schools. “Shifting Chicago Narratives” is an 11-week after-school project that is engaging students through multi-media platforms to tell their stories. It aims to shift the narrative from a focus on all that students have lost through the pandemic to what they have gained, by helping them to tell stories about what they learned about themselves, their communities, and the world, through their experiences with COVID-19. It will amplify the learning that did occur, both inside and outside of the classroom, and provide an outlet for them to process and share their experiences.

The initiative is a part of a multi-year program at CPS CBE schools to integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum through co-created projects that are culturally relevant and allow students to demonstrate both academic competencies and the SEL competencies CPS has identified as key: Agency, Adaptability & Flexibility, Collaboration, and Leadership. The project will provide students an opportunity to learn media production from experts in the field while documenting their stories, supporting their communities, or advocating for change. When asked what is motivating them to participate in the program, one student responded, “The pandemic took a toll on everyone and it’s different for lots of people. We always hear about the bad side of the pandemic but for some, like me, I improved so much.” Another said, “There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now and this project kind of sounds like a way to give people hope.”

Says Damarr Smith, Senior Program Manager for CBE at CPS: “This is a part of the work that we began three years ago to build an ecosystem that helps students build adaptive competencies in and outside of schools through various kinds of experiences that empower them to exercise these skills.”

You can hear more about the “Shifting Chicago’s Narratives” project by attending Mr. Smith’s breakout session, Integrating Social-Emotional Learning into Academic Performance Tasks: Process and Products from CPS CBE Schools, at the free, virtual Illinois 60 by 25 Network Annual Conference on March 3 at 10:30 a.m. Watch for the release of the final “Shifting Chicago Narratives” video later in the spring, which we will share through the Chicago Equity-Centered Innovation Forum, and stay tuned for more about what EdSystems is learning from students. And consider embarking on your own journey to listen and support students in shifting the narrative.

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