Leader tip: Creating a student spotlight, step by step

One day during a staff meeting, our team was discussing school culture and strategies to focus on student strengths and family wisdom. A teacher spoke about the importance of centering student voice in all of our communications – and that inspired us to create a “student voice feature” for our school newsletter, highlighting one student each week. Two years later, the student voice feature is one of our most beloved traditions – and it’s one of my best culture-building tools, too.

That’s why I want to share my approach with you: School leaders know that a big part of creating a strong school culture is getting everyone involved in celebrating student growth and joy! In good times and hard times, I rely on this feature to keep our connections going – and it makes a powerful difference to students, staff and families. Our team uses these 4 goals to guide our work:

Promote Student Confidence

Our student feature is a truly interdisciplinary, inclusive column, and that’s intentional: We want to show students we value their positive risk-taking and skill-building, inside and outside of the classroom. For example, we recently featured a student’s mini-documentary on surfing, created for his Spanish class. It was an amazing piece, and the student was proud to see his teachers and school staff celebrating his creativity. We also use the feature to lift up students who could use a boost of confidence. When a math teacher sees a student struggling to master math concepts and fighting discouragement, they might reach out to the art teacher and say, “I heard this student created some beautiful paintings in your class, and I’d love to nominate them for the student feature. Can you help me with the details? I think the encouragement would do a lot to promote their confidence in my class.” As a team, we prioritize working together, so we can create those moments of uplifting right when they’ll mean the most to our students.

Promote Teacher-Student Trust

The example above leads me to our goal of promoting trust and relationships between teachers and students. When we feature a student in the newsletter, we name the teacher who nominated them and explain how impressed that teacher was by the student’s accomplishments. This way, when that student who is facing challenges in math class sees their artwork in the student feature, they also see that their math teacher was the one who stepped forward to celebrate them. That creates the trust the teacher needs to provide strengths-based encouragement and the trust the student needs to keep taking risks in math class. Those moments are transformative for our students, academically and emotionally.

Promote Teacher Efficacy

We want these spotlights to deepen our shared understanding of who our students are and what they need to keep growing. That’s why I put teachers and staff in charge of nominations – and to make it sustainable, I keep it very simple. Teachers or staff shoot me a quick email about a student they’d like us to feature, I follow up for details, and we hold space to chat through these emails in staff meetings. This helps me stay connected to our students’ work and my team’s instruction, and it helps the entire staff stay connected with our collective culture of innovating, creating and learning. Our team loves sending emails about all the incredible things our students are up to, from demonstrating leadership skills to showing off new extracurricular endeavors, and I love reading them.

Promote Family Connections

These features create new opportunities to connect with families. For example, one week, we featured a student who had recently shared her ice skating passion at school by giving a speech and creating a video demonstration for her class. Reaching out to her family gave me a special opportunity to cheer her on at practice – and to show them how invested we are in celebrating this student for who she is in the classroom and on the ice rink. When we published the feature, it was powerful for her to hear this celebration, and it was powerful for her family to see her passion supported at school. Features like that deepen our partnerships with families and promote a supportive school culture for everyone.

As a school leader, I know this has been a deeply challenging two years for students, staff and families – and by creating space to celebrate our learners, I’ve created space for all of us to stay connected and encouraged. Since that spark of inspiration in our staff meeting, we’ve featured over 100 students in our newsletters and made a profound difference in our school culture. Every week, it’s a joy to congratulate our featured student and their family, and to hear the strengths-based and celebratory conversations that follow. And every week, as my inbox starts to fill up with new emails about the incredible growth of our students I too, get to experience joy with my school community!

Here are a few examples, and I hope they might inspire you to try something similar in your school: https://education.missouri.edu/mizzou-academy/2021/11/15/from-the-online-classroom-to-the-ice-rink-student-feature-ava-fleury/

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