The Power of Student Voice in School Decisions – September 2015
A slogan that hangs in my office states Teaching is a Team Sport! Research has demonstrated the positive influence of collaborative teams on student success. Where do students fit on the team? Are we listening to students? It seems likely everyone would agree that students are our most valuable resource and are the key stakeholders in our education systems. Are we giving them the opportunity to sit at the tables in our schools where decisions are being made that directly affect them?
According to the research of Russel Quaglia, when students have a voice in their education, they are seven times more likely to be motivated to learn. Student voice can be encouraged in many ways. Simple discussions between students and adults are a start but more organized methods such as surveys or student focus groups could be more valuable. Regardless of the method of soliciting student voice one thing is clear, the feedback can be eye opening for teachers and staff. When asked for, student opinion can help school leaders understand more about the schools climate than they thought possible. One student suggested, “You can talk to teachers and other administrators, but students are the brutally honest ones. They’re the ones who will tell you what they’re really seeing or feeling.”
Advocates for student voice have found that teachers and school leaders receive valuable feedback when they build students’ competence and confidence to participate in focus groups. School leaders must trust what students are saying and then be willing to make changes based on their ideas even though it often feels uncomfortable at first. School personnel must simply embrace the fact that all students have something to teach us. “The biggest shift we’ve seen so far has been cultural, with every convening we’ve held, a few more educators and administrators see the immense value of incorporating student voice into their decisions,” says Erik Martin, a student voice advocate. “We’ve got to change hearts and minds before we can change whole institutions.”
When we reach out to students and then act on their feedback and suggestions we improve our system by empowering the very core of our existence. We offer the value and power of mutual respect and create a culture of feedback focused toward the opinions and feelings of the people with the most significance... the students. They are speaking, are we listening?
Perry, G. (2015). Are We Listening to Students? ASCD Education Update, 57(8), 1,4-5.