Students in the lead. Students active involvement in school strategy development.


Aprilov High School in Gabrovo (Bulgaria) had a five-year strategy that had served the school aims well, but this year, it reached its expiration point as the educational landscape evolved. Recognizing the need for a fresh approach, the school embarked on a journey to develop a new strategy. What made this effort unique and empowering was the active involvement of students in shaping this new direction. Their insights, ideas, and perspectives were invaluable in crafting a

strategy that aligns better with the evolving needs and aspirations of both the school and its students. This collaborative approach ensures that the new strategy is more relevant and responsive to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Last year, students aged 18-19, who were in their final year of Aprilov school, took part in a project focused on creating sculptures using recycled materials or scrap materials. The sculptures have been made to be located permanently in the school yard. The project likely aimed to encourage creativity, environmental consciousness, and hands-on artistry among these students. Students have had the opportunity to repurpose discarded items into artistic sculptures, combining artistic expression with sustainability. Such initiatives often provide valuable learning experiences and promote awareness about the importance of recycling and the evolving concepts such as green economy, green growth, sustainable development and circular economy.

This year we decided to work with students of the same age but on different subjects, with the idea to gain insights into the students’ interests, social mindset and purposes at that stage of personal development.

Including students in developing the school strategy had several important aims:
**Student Engagement: The aim was to ensure students active participation in shaping the direction of their education; to increase their motivation and a sense of ownership over the school's goals.
**Student Voice: To provide a platform for students to express their opinions, concerns, and ideas, fostering a culture of open communication between students and school administration. **Improved Decision-Making: We have been convinced that students can offer unique insights into their own learning experiences, helping the school administration make more informed decisions that cater to the actual needs and preferences of the students.
**Enhanced Relevance: Student input ensures that the school strategy aligns with current educational trends and evolving student needs, making it more relevant and effective.
**Empowerment and Responsibility: Active involvement teaches students about responsibility and leadership, encouraging them to take an active role in the school community and beyond.
**Diversity and Inclusion: By including a wide range of student perspectives we aimed to promote diversity, ensuring that the strategy considers the needs of all students, including those from diverse backgrounds or with specific needs.
**Transparency and Accountability: To demonstrate transparency and help build trust within the school community. This also holds the school accountable for meeting the expectations and goals set by students.
**Innovation: Young people always bring fresh and innovative ideas that can inspire creative solutions to educational challenges, fostering a culture of innovation within the school.

**Preparation for the Future: Involving students in strategic planning and decision-making prepares them for active citizenship and leadership roles in the future, promoting civic engagement and responsibility.
**Long-Term Impact: The strategy developed with student input is more likely to have a lasting positive impact on the school community, as it reflects the genuine needs and aspirations of the students who will benefit from it. Incorporating these aims into the process of involving students in school strategy development will lead to a more effective, inclusive, and student-centered educational institution.

The activity

The phases of the activity included:

**Preparation and Planning: First we met with the school staff and presented the idea, outlining the goals of involving students in strategy development. We identified the key stakeholders, established a timeline and needed resources. In this phase we selected methods for student engagement, such as establishing a student advisory group; student council; focus groups, including students from various grade levels, backgrounds, and interests; meetings; workshops. Students had to read the existing strategy and give their feedback on it. The purpose and the goals of involving students in the strategy development process have been widely communicated among students with the aim to ensure that they understand the significance of their involvement and how it can impact the school's future. In this phase training and orientation sessions have been provided to the students involved in the process. The aim of this activity was to educate students about the overall strategic planning process.

**Engagement and Input: in this phase students have been actively involved in providing input on various aspects of school strategy. This included seeking their opinions on curriculum, school culture, extracurricular activities, and other specific initiatives through various methods, such as surveys, focus group discussions, one-on-one interviews.

**Data analysis: The data and feedback received from students have been analyzed by a selected group of students/students council. Common themes, concerns, and priorities that emerged from their input had been summarized. This was the way of understanding the student perspective.

**Collaborative Decision-Making: We worked with students to co-create solutions and strategies based on their input. Students participated in discussions and decision-making processes, and thus they had a real impact on shaping the school's future. In this phase students collaborate also with administrators and staff members.

**Strategy Development: In the final stage we worked with the students to draft the school's strategic plan. This involved setting a new vision, clear objectives, and establishing key performance indicators that align with the input received from students.

**Recognition and Celebration: The contribution of students to the school's strategic development have been widely recognized and celebrated through different events: public debate, meetings and discussions with key stakeholders, presentations. The school administration acknowledged their efforts and emphasized the positive impact they've had on the school community. We have been aware that involving students in school strategy development is not a one-time event but an ongoing commitment to fostering a more inclusive and student-centered learning environment.


In the process of school strategy development various methods have been used to assess the students' competences and gauge their skills, knowledge, and abilities. We assessed students' competences at different stages of the strategy development process to track their growth and development over time.

During the process we assigned projects that require students to research, analyze, and present strategic ideas for the school. Thus we evaluated their ability to apply concepts practically and communicate them effectively. We asked students to create portfolios showcasing their work and their learning journey throughout the strategy development process. We also encouraged students to assess their own work and that of their peers. The peer and self-assessment method we used to promote self-reflection and provide valuable insights into students’ competences. We applied observation assessment during strategy development workshops, discussions,etc. to note students participation, engagement, and ability to contribute constructively. We invited external experts to evaluate students' strategic proposals. The combination of different assessment methods provided us with a comprehensive view of students' competences in the context of strategy development, taking into account various skills and abilities required for effective strategic planning.








Elvira Hristova and Mariana Prodanova,
Aprilov National School, city of Gabrovo, Bulgaria.

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