Student Voice in Schools: What the Research Says

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Sometimes school administrators invite students to work alongside officials when developing policy. For the most part, however, major policies are developed and decisions are made for students rather than with them. This is because the field of educational leadership has been defined by a century of antiquated leadership roles and leadership development practices. All is not lost however as contempory trends are altering the perceived roles of education leaders, positioning them as justice advocates and democratice change makers.

In this post I will highlight the value of including students in the development of their own educational experiences.

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What Is Student Voice?

In school, student voice can be seen in many ways. From students sharing perspectives to working with teachers in seeking solutions to complex problems. Students and their voice can in fact be significant sources of information, which can help to improve classroom instruction and to facilitate school change initiatives.

Why does Student Voice Matter?

  • Including students in school governance teaches them the democratic ideals, which in turn strengthens their citizenship behaviors into adulthood
  • Effective learning necessitates that students actively participate in their own learning.
  • Feelings of self-efficacy are strengthened in students who develop a strong voice, and in turn become empowered to make positive contributions to their school and community.
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  • Youth-led initiatives can strengthen young people’s critical consciousness, helping them to better understand how inequitable outcomes are perpetuated in schools and society.
  • The presence of student voice has shown to have an impact on how educators themselves learn, thus benefiting the entire school community.
  • The advancement of an active and engaged citizenry requires supporting youth agency, and young people’s capacity to become subjects of social transformation.
  • Participation in student-led initiatives allows for students to exercise autonomy, matching their developmental needs in ways that traditional schooling experiences do not.

Obstacles to Student Voice

Giving students the opportunity to participate in discussions of school policy and practice can potentially open the school up for a disruption of the status quo. In an educational environment such disruptions can be met with resistance from various stakeholders.

  • Technical aspects of schools, such as scheduling issues or time constraints.
  • Tensions of engaging in student voice initiatives among students and adults, resulting in a shift in power dynamics among the group.
  • Conflict among school leadership with regards the extent to which student voice should instigate change.
  • Educational leaders tend to want to direct the course of an initiative rather than supporting youth in their leadership endeavors.

Overcoming the Obstacles

Oftentimes the obstacles that get in the way of letting student voice thrive seem insurmountable. This said, current research suggests that there are a few ways in which educational leaders can develop a culture that amplifies, prioritizes, and celebrates student voice within schools.

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  1. School leaders who genuinely support centering the voices of students incorporate it as a natural part of school culture. At a fundamental level, if school leaders strive to center the voices of students in their schools, then they must internalize this core belief and create a school culture that nurtures this ethos.
  1. The intentional positioning of students as change agents and leaders. For example, staff and administrators should support students through their presence at events, and adults at the school must offer critical feedback to strengthen students’ initiatives.
  1. School leaders must actively and intentionally create opportunities for student voice. For student voice initiatives to thrive within school settings, there needs to be a concerted effort made on the part of school administrators to value and support this work.

Reference

Lac, V. T., & Cumings Mansfield, K. (2018). What Do Students Have to Do With Educational Leadership? Making a Case for Centering Student Voice. Journal of Research on Leadership Education13(1), 38–58.