Learning is a two-way street

By Suzanne Bouffard and Liz Murray
February 2020
Vol 41, No. 1
School is not a rehearsal for life. School is life,” says Mirko Chardin, founding principal of Putnam Avenue Upper School, a public middle school serving a diverse group of 6th-8th graders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When the school was founded in 2012 as part of a districtwide middle school reorganization, its leaders and staff were determined to focus on the student experience and put student voice at the heart of their work. “People often talk about putting kids at the center, but no one talks about how,” Chardin says. “Kids can’t be at the center if the adults don’t have the capacity to understand their perspectives.” For Chardin and his colleagues, this means more than simply asking students what they think — although that is part

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Suzanne Bouffard and Liz Murray

Suzanne Bouffard ( is editor of The Learning Professional and vice president, publications at Learning Forward. Liz Murray ( is an educational leadership consultant in the Boston area.

What student voice means to me

Here’s what Putnam Avenue Upper School students say student voice means to them:

Nuraya Toledo, 8th grade: “[It means] that our opinions matter. Certain things we do, they ask our opinion on it. It’s more helpful for us than them just handing to us and we just sit there.”

Abby Duncan, 8th grade: “For me, it’s seeing teachers going out of their way to give us students what we need to better ourselves in that subject. … Seeing us doesn’t necessarily mean only hearing our voices, but observing us and seeing us through our actions as well.”

Sammy Nkemnik, 8th grade: “I think it’s the ability to … go up to a teacher and tell them what you don’t like about the class and then have them change it so it’s a better learning environment for you.”

Adam Ouassaidi, 7th grade: “It can help the teachers improve what they’re teaching, because if you tell them … what they need to work on or how it will help you with learning, then they can change it up and make it better for the students as well as the teachers, which is pretty much the goal.”


Putnam Avenue Upper School staff describe how they elicit student voice:

Chris Godfrey, 7th-grade math teacher and teacher leader: “We start the year with a lot of team building and just getting to know our students, and that sets the foundation for the work we’re trying to accomplish. There’s a quote that always stands out in my brain that goes something to the effect that, ‘You have to earn the right to redirect someone.’ There are a lot of individuals in education who are really well-meaning, but they miss that piece of building that relationship to be able to deliver the content.”

Kareem Cutler, 6th-grade math teacher and teacher leader: “We do verbal and written surveys to learn about students’ experiences. We do an activity called number talks [an instructional strategy aimed at engaging all voices in the math classroom and empowering all students to discuss and feel empowered by their mathematical thinking].”

Michelle Calioro, math coach and founding teacher leader: “We did math identity projects as a team over the summer, and then teachers did them with their students [to explore feelings about math and beliefs about self related to math]. A lot of my students don’t see themselves as mathematicians, but in this project … they start to open themselves up and see [being a mathematician] is a lot more than they would have normally seen.”


Cambridge Public Schools. (n.d.a). Student data report. Available at

Cambridge Public Schools. (n.d.b). Our vision and values. Available at

Image for aesthetic effect only - Suzanne-bouffard
Senior Vice President, Communications & Publications | + posts

Suzanne Bouffard is senior vice president of communications and publications at Learning Forward. She is the editor of The Learning Professional, Learning Forward’s flagship publication. She also contributes to the Learning Forward blog and webinars. With a background in child development, she has a passion for making research and best practices accessible to educators, policymakers, and families. She has written for many national publications including The New York Times and the Atlantic, and previously worked as a writer and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Duke University and a B.A. from Wesleyan University. She loves working with authors to help them develop their ideas and voices for publication.

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