The Right Brain Initiative


Let’s listen: advocating for student voice

June 1st, 2017 by Right Brain Team

I’ve been contemplating the power and importance of student voice for some time. As parents and educators, how often do we claim to know what’s best for kids without ever inviting them into the conversation?  The idea has been really needling me over the past few months because of a string of events.

In February my interest was piqued when I participated in a workshop at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education Annual Meeting. I was reminded by Grace Dolan-Sandrino, a student serving on the Kennedy Center Youth Council, that we can’t expect to design programs for or to impact students unless we work with them or let them take the lead. This article by Grace for the Washington Post was re-published locally in the Oregonian on March 12, 2017. It’s worth a read.

In March, student reflections on arts integrated learning experiences filled the room at Portland’s World Forestry Center when The Right Brain Initiative hosted its 8th annual Spring Colloquium. The day, framed by a protocol designed by Steve Siedel and colleagues of Harvard’s Project Zero, allows the work and words of students to provide insights into learning.  It makes learning visible. Hear from one Right Brain student in this video we shared at this year’s Colloquium.

Student voice. Bingo!

Later in the month, I was lucky enough to present at the March meeting of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory committee of the National Endowment for the Arts, where the focus was on arts education. More important than what I had to say was the power of the student experience as expressed by Madeline Hui and Lily van Oss when they shared their collaborative stop-motion animation project on the cycle of a cell they created during a 6th grade science unit. I’ve had colleagues tell me that this made way more sense than any science class they took in college.

Yay, Maddie and Lily!

In April, I attended Portland Public Schools’ The Heart of Portland, a thank you event for voters who passed  the local arts income tax that guarantees arts teachers for every K-5 student in Portland schools. The celebration has become an annual tradition. This year’s event included over 50 schools, hundreds of student performers and visual art pieces that represented the creative work of K-12 students across the school district. Attendees provided enthusiastic, real-time evidence of their appreciation of student achievement in the arts.

Thank you, Portlanders! Thank you, students, for your creative spirit.

The Regional Arts & Culture Council’s (RACC) State of the Arts address to City Council is an annual event which highlights the impact of Portland’s investment in the arts including arts education. This year’s presentation on May 4th featured an opening performance by the 60-member Boise-Eliot/Humboldt 1st grade choir directed by music teacher Katie Robinson, a dynamo arts tax funded teacher. Additional testimony by Essence Taylor of Grant High School offered a window into the impact of arts integrated learning as she relayed her experiences through RACC’s Right Brain Initiative at Beach School.

Such powerful voices!

Then I happened upon the recently published Lift Off by Donovan Livingston and was reminded that he first presented it as a convocation address at the Harvard Graduate School of Education graduation ceremony in 2016. Here’s what stuck with me as I read:

“I was in the seventh grade

when Ms. Parker told me,

“Donovan, we can put your

excess energy to good use!”

And she introduced me

to the sound of my own voice.

She gave me a stage. A platform.

She told me that our stories are ladders

that make it easier of us to touch the stars.”

The world needs more Ms. Parkers.

If you’re pursuing the opportunity to give students a voice, let’s connect. Students? Parents? Teachers? Artists? Business leaders? Elected officials? Can we work together?

We’re listening.


Right Brain Team