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Cafeteria DJs: What, Why & How

Our teachers do so many things to amplify student voice in their classrooms. It's important for me to find different ways to support the work our team does on a school-wide level. Sometimes this translates into direct support of a teacher's idea or request, and other times it involves investing indirectly into a school culture that supports staff and students. A few years ago we started a little experiment in the cafeteria. We implemented a "Cafeteria DJ" program to provide kids an opportunity to select music that they wanted to listen to during lunch. (Occasionally we have educators contact us to ask about our Cafeteria DJ program, so I thought I'd reflect a little on what we've learned over the years and why we're more committed to the idea than ever before.)

The idea is really quite's how it works:

1.) We hard-wired an iPod into the cafeteria sound system.

2.) Our music specialist created several playlists in iTunes and organized them by genre on our school iPod.

3.) We purchased some music genre posters to help students understand the different genres, famous composers, and origins of different styles of music.

4.) Our lunchroom supervisors empower 1st through 5th grade students to select the genres they'd like to listen to during lunch. (Our school is K-5, so this is done differently in each grade-level.)

5.) Sometimes students do a little emceeing by announcing their music selections into the microphone. (They love this and it's great practice public speaking.)

6.) Other times we plan bigger "DJ events" where students get to DJ the entire lunch period while eating with the principal.

Although the Cafeteria DJ program continues to evolve, the biggest factor in its success are the adults in our school who value student voice. Our para-professional team does an incredible job running this entire program day in and day out. Our entire staff makes new ideas possible and typically take the initiative to either conceive innovations or improve upon existing practices. Simply put, they are heroes to me because they love our students so much that they're willing to step out of their routines and stretch their comfort zones for kids. We've had students and staff requesting special songs and new genres the past couple of years now. We usually see an uptick in song requests around the holidays and during different seasons. However, a recent request really caused me to pause and reflect upon the power of this practice. A student requested that we add some songs from the Indian music genre. This prompted me to do some research on different types of Indian music. (I also called the student's parents to learn more about the music and mention how proud we were of their child's request.) Thanks to a student who felt empowered to ask for music that represented his culture, we'll be adding a new genre to our school playlists soon! When students experience that their "voice" matters in the classroom and in other areas of the school they experience a sense of belonging. When students "belong" they are empowered to contribute more of themselves, their passions, and their culture into their learning, and this benefits everyone. I wrote a little more about the cafeteria DJ concept in my new book, Renegade Leadership. I was fortunate to be able to include the voices and stories of more than 30 incredible educators in the book. If you're interested in learning how other educators are amplifying student voice through an innovative pedagogy please consider checking out my book on Amazon HERE.




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