When we think of the term student voice, our minds often jump to speeches in assemblies, meetings with student leadership teams, and feedback surveys that are conducted a few times a semester. As much as these are very important ways for students to communicate their ideas, they are not the only methods.
When embracing student voice, it is important to look past the traditional methods of students conveying their thoughts and opinions. Instead, we should also look to include the voices of those who share their ideas in a less conventional way – what is often referred to as inconvenient student voice.
What is convenient vs inconvenient student voice?
Youth social change and education expert, Adam Fletcher, sums this concept of convenient vs inconvenient student voice perfectly, stating,
“Convenient student voice happens whenever adults know who is going to speak, what is going to be said, where it’s going to be shared, when it’s going to happen, and what the outcomes are going to be. Adults might not have written the script, but what’s going to be said is no surprise to them …
…Inconvenient student voice happens when students express themselves in ways that aren’t predictable. They share ideas, shout out thoughts, take action, reflect harshly, or critique severely. They write, draw, graffiti, paint, play, sing, protest, and do things that adults don’t know, understand, approve of, or otherwise predict…”
In the latest episode of the Student Voices Podcast we explore how inclusive student voice can be achieved in schools. We talked to Sandy Cartwright and Matt Lotherington, the Principal and Senior Teacher, at Alawa Primary School, and Steve Laing, a Science, Maths, and Student Enterprise teacher, who currently facilitates the student council at Clarkson Community High School, about how they manage and promote the voices of all students in their community.
Below is a recap of our discussion. To listen to the full episode , go to https://pivotpl.com/student-voices-podcast/
What types of voices do you see throughout your school community, and what impact do those voices make on the broader community?
Sandy and Matt, from Alawa Primary School, explained that they are constantly looking for opportunities to engage the whole school community through sharing of student voice. This is done in a wide variety of ways from focus groups and surveys to casual conversations. They believe it is important to constantly listen to everyone in the school community, from parents to the youngest students, and that everyone should be able to see real change come from their ideas and opinions.
Steve, from Clarkson Community High school, explained that his school is at the start of their journey with student voice and so their current focus is on engagement.. Many students have never been asked for their perspectives before, so they don’t know how to use their voice. Instead of overwhelming their students with opportunities to share their voices, they are focusing on educating students on how to express their voice in constructive ways.
How do you ensure that all voices are heard, not just those of student leaders?
At Alawa, they have created a leadership model that provides opportunities for all students to take on responsibility regardless of where their strengths lie. From school captain and vice captain, to students who are in charge of clearing the toys at the end of playtime, there is always a place for students to get involved. Beyond that, Sandy has created a feedback culture with the students meaning they feel very comfortable to come and speak to her, or write her letters sharing their concerns, regardless of leadership titles they do or do not hold.
At Clarkson, they try to give every student who wishes to have a leadership position the opportunity to have one . In recent years, the focus has shifted from academic students primarily holding these roles, to allowing all students who have the drive and passion to step up and step up and embrace a leadership position. It is also common to see students taking things into their own hands and showing their voices through action. Steve shared a fantastic example with us of how their students wanted school hoodies although they were not a part of the approved uniform. One day, one boy created his own, sewing the school emblem onto his hoodie. This became a catalyst for the creation of an approved hoodie being added to the uniform.
Can you give me an example of a time you were faced with inconvenient student voice, that turned into something positive?
Both schools gave examples of times their students displayed negative behaviours, and instead of disciplining them without listening, they stopped to find out the motivation behind these actions, before working towards a solution.
At Alawa, they were challenged with some difficult behaviour from their older students during lunch times. Upon asking the students why this was occurring, they discovered that these students felt they didn’t have their own space or things to do away from the younger kids. A Year Six chillout space was then set up, and an improvement in behaviour was seen almost immediately. An excellent example of how having an open mind can make a world of difference.
At Clarkson they were challenged by students walking out of class. This was very frustrating at first, but eventually it was recognised that there must be a reason this was happening because no progress could be made by continuing to send them back to class. They are now in the process of working through this challenge with the students involved, and are on the way to a positive resolution.
It was great to hear that the students of Alawa Primary School and Clarkson Community High School are being taught that their voices and actions matter. These students are seeing real change in their school environments directly as a result of their ideas and concerns.
If we have learnt anything from talking to Sandy, Matt and Steve, it is that we can’t afford to underestimate what students have to say.
To hear the entire episode, and more of our discussion on creating inclusive school environments, check out https://pivotpl.com/student-voices-podcast/.