From “student voice” to “student leadership”

How do we make sure we “hear” our students?

How do we develop their leadership skills?

Those questions are questions I ask myself almost every single day.

To make sure our schools function well, we often need to be aware of many factors. One of those factors (and a very important one) is “student voice”. Students need to be heard if we want focus, harmony and creativity within 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 out, we will boost their self-confidence and as a consequence, they will be more likely to take on leadership roles within our communities. If we consider that leadership skills are almost always listed as one of the most important “21st century skills” (what I prefer calling “Forever Skills”), society as a whole and school in particular would be better off developing and listening to “student voice(s)” (with an -s since I believe there are more than just one “student voice”).

A continuum between “student voices” and “leadership” exists and to summarise, it could be organised in the following way:

  1. Expression (expressing one’s opinions and developing a learner profile)
    • Consultation (surveys, input and feedback)
    • Participation (decision making process)
    • Partnership (collaborating with teachers/learners + contributing to the design of lessons, units, projects and assessments)
    • Activism (identifying problems and generating solutions + advocating for change in and outside of lessons)
    • 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: indeed, the idea meant that all subject teachers, all Heads of Department as well the Senior Leadership Team were supposed to work together to rethink and redevelop the school 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 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(s)” to “student leadership”.

    Moving from “student voice(s)” to “student leadership” is easier said than done. Where do we start and how do we build bridges between the various elements of the continuum mentioned above? 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/semester 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/or 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 (via social platforms or on PA system for example).  
    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 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 below… Merci beaucoup!

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