The Human Development’s Powerwalk

Eleven students standing a line participating in an activity called the Powerwalk.

1. Powerwalk Activity

Kate Wilde from The Human Development Workshop worked with hundreds of secondary schools across Victoria during her time leading the VicSRC’s Regional Conferences and Student Voice Workshops.

Reflecting on the “articulate, polite, perfectly likeable and presentable young people” she found herself working with in these workshops, she poses the question

How truly ‘representative’ are our representatives or how much of an insight do  they have into the lives and difficulties of some of their peers?

 

She included the Powerwalk as an empathy activity “to highlight this point and challenge SRC members to consider the broader student body” during the workshops and it was a favourite activity that spread amongst Victorian schools.

 

The ‘PowerWalk’ is an activity I have developed and extended, based on a similar activity I came across when working with a group of same-sex attracted young people in the early 2000s through the Action Centre. At that time discussions about homophobia and the difficulties experienced by gay students were in their very early days and the ‘PowerWalk’ activity had been developed to show the differences in access, equality and safety between heterosexual and same-sex attracted students.”

– Kate Wilde, The Human Development Workshop

 

The Powerwalk has expanded to reflect a selection of different communities, groups and personalities that are represented in most schools but remains a visual demonstration of the inequity that still exists in school and society today.

 

2. How to Powerwalk Activity

A broad range of ‘labels’ are distributed at random to all participants in the activity. These are descriptors such as: ‘A popular boy in the cool group’, ‘A shy student’, ‘A student who doesn’t speak much English’, ‘A sports all-rounder’, etc. Clarify to the whole group that the label they are holding denotes the person they are to become for the length of the activity and that they should keep this information to themselves. It is important to stress that for the purpose of the activity, they will need to step into the shoes of the student identity they are holding.

Students form a line across the middle of the room (or yard) and a series of yes/no questions are asked about their social, academic and familial experiences eg:

  • “Would you have a lot of friends to hang out with at lunchtime?”
  • “Would you feel comfortable inviting other students back to your home?”
  • “Could you expect to get a leadership position at your school?”
  • “Do you think you would get along well with your teachers?”

The participants must imagine how the student on their label would answer. If they think the students would answer ‘yes’ they take a step forward; ‘no’ is a step backward and, if unsure, they can stay where they are. At the end of the activity the participants remain standing where they are and reveal the identity of their label.

A sample of labels can be accessed here  but feel free to customise to reflect your school’s community.

Powerwalk-activity-labels.pdf (107 downloads)

 

3. Follow-Up Discussion

Clearly, this activity must be followed by a discussion of its meaning and impact on participants. Inevitably some or all of the labels will describe actual members of the group participating and their insights into the activity’s accuracy can be valuable to the group, as well as a safety valve for expressing their own emotions. The questions asked during the activity will also impact upon the end result; if the questions are all about social experiences then the participant labels of “A straight ‘A’ student” or “A student who is really into computers” may end up at the back. If questions are instead about academic experiences eg. “Do you think you would get along well with your teachers?”, the dynamic changes and participants with these labels will end up further to the front.

Discussion questions should be tailored not only towards the experiences of the participants, but also what the activity reflects in regards to the learning objective at the time. Some examples from recent groups with young leaders are:

How did you feel when you got your label?

  • Did you know straight away whether your student would do well or badly?
  • Do you think your school is fair to all student? Why? Why Not?
  • What can teachers do to make a fairer environment for all students? Examples?
  • What can SRCs do to make a fairer environment for all students? Examples?

If the activity is done with an inter-school group, we sometimes find that students with the same label are placed in both the front and the back group. The group can then be asked: “Why the difference?” “What is it about the way that a school operates that makes the difference?”

The activity is simple and easy to use in small and large groups – from 4 students to 100!

Students who seriously want to be good representatives engage seriously with this activity and take away its lessons. They become less dismissive or frustrated with the smokers and truants of their school and more interested in why these behaviours are occurring and whether the SRC can do anything to increase school engagement. They become less interested in punitive approaches to ‘undesirable’ behaviour and more creative in their approach to how these behaviours can be managed, or even whether they are always so ‘undesirable’ in the first place.

– Kate Wilde, The Human Development Workshop

 

This activity provides an effective starting point for Student Representative Teams to discuss who they are representing and who they aren’t as well as considering what is convenient and inconvenient student voice.

It also provides some insight into the challenges each student faces in schools and how the Student Representative Team can help to ensure everyone’s voices are heard.

Adapted from Kate Wilde’s article in Connect, June 2015.

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