Student voice and leadership

How do we make sure we hear our students and how do we develop their leadership skills?

If we want schools to function well, we need to be aware of many factors, one of which is student voice. Students need to be heard if we want harmony and creativity in our classrooms.

Here is a rather simple definition of student voice (www.education.vic.gov.au):

Student voice acknowledges that students have unique perspectives on learning, teaching, and schooling, and should have the opportunity to actively shape their own education.

Student voice involves students actively participating in their schools, communities and the education system, contributing to decision making processes and collectively influencing outcomes by putting forward their views, concerns and ideas.

In my opinion, student voice and leadership are closely linked or rather interconnected. If we listen to our students, if we hear them, we will also boost their self-confidence and they will therefore be more likely to take on leadership roles within our communities.

A continuum exists and to summarise, it could be organised in the following way:

  1. Expression (expressing one’s opinions and developing a learner profile)
  2. Consultation (surveys, input and feedback)
  3. Participation (decision making process)
  4. Partnership (collaborating with teachers/learners + contributing to the design of lessons, units, projects and assessments)
  5. Activism (identifying problems and generating solutions + advocating for change in and outside of lessons)
  6. Leadership (guiding groups as leader of change + co-planning and making decisions + accepting responsibility for outcomes).

A few years ago, while taking part in the IB Global Conference 2017 in The Hague, I met John Bayramian, the Founding Principal of a school called Future Leaders International Private Schools (UAE). The central concept of this new school was to develop leadership in every single student. I thought the concept was interesting since all subject teachers and/or Heads of Department were therefore supposed to redevelop their curriculum with this single quality (leadership) in mind. Even if I don’t believe that education as a whole should solely gravitate around the notion of leadership, it is still an important attribute in this day and age (the coronavirus crisis having recently highlighted how good or bad leadership could trigger dramatic events) and we need to develop ideas as to how we can move from student voice to student leadership. Let go back to our continuum to get a few ideas…

Now, moving from student voice to student leadership is easier said than done. Where do we start and how do we build bridges between the various elements of this continuum? Below are a few examples…

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Expression (expressing one’s opinions and developing a learner profile)“Share something you’re passionate about” day. In small group, give feedback on teacher’s presentation. Using Google Forms, give constructive feedback based on multiple intelligences. Develop your own learner profile (with strengths and weaknesses).  
Consultation (surveys, input and feedback)  End of class survey on learning and teaching. End of trimester feedback on units, projects and activities. Sharing ideas (in class) about student voice and mindfulness. Choosing ways to feedback according to individual learner profile.  
Participation (decision making process)Student voice in the classroom. Think Tank for remodelling curriculum. Transfer of ownership via student councils (cf. George Couros ideas). Students involved in the choice of books read in class and at home.  
Partnership (collaborating with teachers/learners + contributing to the design of lessons, units, projects and assessments)  Students as co-creators of material, projects, units and assessments. Become your own teacher for a day (G6 to G12). Mentoring and buddy programmes (with the Lower School or equivalent). Exchange ideas with a partner on how to solve a specific problem.  
Activism (identifying problems and generating solutions + advocating for change in and outside of lessons)  CAS programme or equivalent. Charity events. Whole school assemblies (student-led assembly programme). Talent Show organised by students.Student council as autonomous body with budget allocation (via charity events). Elections and information by the students and for the students. Public bulletin or newsletter and announcement on PA system.  
Leadership (guiding groups as leader of change + co-planning and making decisions + accepting responsibility for outcomes)  Leadership seminar for and by the students (“What makes a good leader?”). Workshop on leadership styles. Think Tanks created by students to look at problems and trying to solve them via creative thinking. Student-led assemblies. Student-led lunch time activities.    

If as a student, parent, teacher, member of staff or member of leadership group you went through this continuum or would like to share ideas or activities that could work well to move from one level to the next, feel free to comment and share your ideas…

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