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In Its Second Year, Lincoln’s SPEAK Conference Expands and Deepens Student Engagement

By Alli Poirot and Matt Kroot, Teachers at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln

On February 23, 2018, the student body at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln impressed us all once again with a day of engaging and inspiring workshops presented by students themselves. In its second year, SPEAK, Lincoln’s annual day of student-led workshop sessions expanded to include grades 4-12, as well as faculty and staff from all divisions. Parents played a role as well, as speakers and volunteers. We had 625 total attendees, ranging from age 9 to age 70! There were over 75 sessions offered, on topics ranging from basketball to coding, dancing to meditation, gardening, public speaking, bullet journaling, human rights, and rap history. Walking through the hallways, a visitor could peer in to see 11th graders writing poetry with 4th graders, 10th graders cutting vegetables with 7th graders, and staff paired up with students learning how to bake cookies, taught by teenagers.

One addition to the schedule this year was the introduction of fishbowl sessions. Four fishbowls were run, one each on the topics of technology, stress, grades, and inspirational instruction. Teachers facilitated the sessions, with a first inner circle composed of students, then one of only teachers, then a debrief with the whole group. Questions like “How does technology affect your learning?” and “What do you wish students understood about grading?” were put forward to the group. The structure of the fishbowls enabled both students and teachers to share their experiences without interruption or censure, and to connect to and listen to their peers. In these sessions, the outer circle’s sole task was to listen, and in the debrief afterward it was striking to hear how many students were surprised by the words of teachers (“I never knew they hated grading!”) and how many teachers were moved by the reality of students (“I only think about my class, not their full schedule of 7 periods”). The fishbowls were several participants’ favorite part of SPEAK, reinforcing the spirit of community and connection.

In addition to the workshops and the fishbowl sessions, SPEAK participants kicked the day off with an opening ceremony, including a presenter panel and a “Let’s Make a Deal” game that illustrated theories of probability. At midday all attendees- students, parents, visitors, and staff- gathered together to share an international-themed picnic lunch, accompanied by live music from a student band. Finally, we ended the day with the SPEAK! Slam, where students shared their high-energy responses to the question, “What would a school where students follow their passions look like?”. Some imagined student-run classes, while others wanted to do away with classes to follow their individual learning path. The ideas of energy and creativity were present in all.

The Lincoln Innovate Team developed SPEAK as a way to celebrate and amplify student voice. This year’s theme was student passions, and it was seen in the bright eyes and big smiles of kids making slime, Malaysian food dishes, or a slam dunk on the basketball court. After the event, surveys were sent out to attendees and presenters. Overall, the feedback was extremely positive. Students valued being able to choose the sessions they attended and having the opportunity to teach to and learn from their peers. Staff were happy to see the students they teach in new roles as teachers themselves, talking about things they care about. Parents felt privileged to participate. SPEAK provides the entire Lincoln community with a better understanding of each other: who we are, what we think about, and who we can be outside our regular classrooms and normal school day.

Photos and Video Credits: Lincoln Communications


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