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Valuing Student Voice

May 5, 2017 by

Expect more by listening more.

The Leaders of Tomorrow are in Schools Now

Resources are crucial in the operation of a successful school.  School leaders need to be cognizant of each and every resource at their disposal to ensure quality learning for each pupil in their charge.  Resources include everything from balances at the bank and beans in the cafeteria to tires on the buses and bleachers in the gym.  As important as all these tangible items may be, the most valuable resource to any school is its people.  The human element makes it all possible.  Whether it be the trusted front office secretary, stalwart math department chair or brilliant custodian, the day to day operation of a school ultimately depends on the people who make it all happen. The staff, faculty and administration of any school may serve critical roles, but many principals are oblivious to the massive resource represented in their student body.  Students are not only provided more opportunities to express themselves academically today, but they are included in the determination of important decisions.

Everywhere and All Around   

The inclusion of student input is nothing new in American education.  Student government in various forms has organized social events and fundraisers for generations.  The traditional model of student governance certainly has its merits.  Many contemporary leaders point to those early experiences as student leaders as proving grounds for their skills and identities.  In recent years, there has been an emphasis on providing an opportunity for more students to provide input on a broader range of school issues.  Students are now being included in discussions regarding human resource allocation, textbook selection, curriculum and pedagogy as well as building operations.  While it is important to note that these are situations where student input may be sought and considered, the ultimate decision making responsibility lies with the adult stakeholders.

Empowering Student Leaders

Student voice and student leadership are relatively synonymous, but the cultivation of student voice may precede the emergence of leadership qualities.  More traditional options like student led organizations and student led committees are a great way to begin incorporating student voice in the life of the school.  Administrators can provide open office hours to listen to individual students and organize larger town hall style meetings to hear student concerns. These ideas can be applied at the classroom level as well and can be a great way for teachers to learn more about individual students and classes.  Community activism can be a great way to channel student concerns toward positive outcomes not only for the school, but the larger community.

Students as True Stakeholders

All too often, students are given a passive role in our schools.  We know better, but it’s easy to marginalize students as tabula rasa simply void until made complete by the knowledge we impart.  While they may lack the experience of adults, our students possess real talent.  They understand more than we often realize and our exclusion of their viewpoint from the operations of a school is simply unacceptable.  Of course, as educators, we have a responsibility to guide and nurture young people.  By encouraging students to voice their opinions, as well as facing them with the reality of complex decisions, they are better prepared for challenges within and beyond the classroom.

Comment Below on how students are given innovative opportunities to take part in your school community.

Keywords: National Association of Secondary School Principals, education week, student voice

References

Ferlazzo, L. (2012, February 14). Cultivating Student Leadership. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/02/14/tln_ferlazzo_leadership.html

Fletcher, A. (2015, February 3). Student Voice in School Building Leadership. Retrieved from http://soundout.org/george-patmor-study/

Huff, T. (2016, October 27). Student Voice: Empowering the Student Learner. Retrieved from http://blog.nassp.org/2016/10/27/student-voice-empowering-the-student-learner/

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