Author Spotlight: Bern Nicholls – Student Voice Matters! A Compelling Case for Consulting Students
Why would leaders and teachers not consult with students when they are the only reason schools exist?
As educators, we need to consider student voice when it comes to understanding their learning experiences. In fact, I would suggest that if we are not regularly consulting students as partners in learning, we are excluding them and making decisions that may not be relevant to them personally, socially or academically.
An examination of why student voice needs to be central to schools is critical if we are to be in genuine partnership with our students. Significantly, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12 states that, “Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decision that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account.” Further to this, according to VicSRC 2017, “Students have a right to be heard. In student-focused schools, student participation goes beyond students having a voice only through their representation on SRC or similar body. When students meaningfully participate in decision-making about their learning, they are more likely to remain involved in education and to achieve better results.” These two statements compel us to seriously consider the place of student voice in our schools. The SRC is the traditional way of accessing students’ experience of school, but it is not enough. Our schools need to be places where students are invited to share their voice in an environment that welcomes and trusts their ideas, as well as giving them responsibility to do something as a result! Student voice must be more than seeking their opinions – rather, it must lead to responsible student action!
So, what are the benefits of engaging students as genuine learning partners?
Research findings indicate that student voice, agency and leadership have a positive impact on their self-worth, engagement, purpose and academic motivation (Quaglia 2016), which contribute to improved learning outcomes (Hattie 2010). Furthermore, when students are provided with genuine opportunities to engage meaningfully in their learning – for example, student choice and feedback, and involvement in collaborative decision-making to plan for their learning and assessment – they tend to more willingly exercise agency in their own learning, contribute to their school community and improve learning outcomes for themselves and their peers (Quaglia 2016). Authentically seeking out and including student voice creates learning partnerships that are reciprocal, with teachers and school leaders receiving valuable feedback that can lead to improved teaching practice and contribute to school improvement.
In fact, it is essential that school leaders and teachers consistently check their assumptions about students’ experience of school by asking the question, “I wonder what our students would say?” The most important next step is to actively seek out students’ thinking, listen deeply for understanding, honour their contribution and act with them in partnership! Fundamentally, our adult beliefs need examining to determine whether we believe student thinking matters! I can remember being raised in the 70s, and being admonished for speaking in adult company. I knew that “children should be seen and not heard!” But ultimately, student voice in schools must be driven by trust and responsibility, alongside a belief that the adults in the school can learn with and from their students.
Do you believe students have something worthwhile to say? Are you willing to deeply listen to and learn from your students? Do you know what matters to your students? How does your school genuinely seek out student voice? How could you include student voice in your classroom, senior leadership team meetings, department meetings or boardrooms?
If you’re interested in how my colleague, Annelies Hoogland, and I have practically included student voice within a whole school context – including school leadership teams, department meetings, teacher feedback systems and classrooms – have a look at our book, Students Driving Learning, available from Hawker Brownlow Education now.
Hattie, J. (2010). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge, Milton Park, UK.
Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations. (2016). School Voice Report. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA. http:// quagliainstitute.org/dmsView/School_Voice_Report_2016
VicSRC. (2017). 12th Annual VicSRC Congress Report 2017 http://www.vicsrc.org.au/congress/congress-reports
Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls