Speak less and listen more - the value of student voice!
This week I received a letter from a Year 9 student providing me with her thoughts and feelings about the Australian education system. It was an excellent letter as it clearly articulated her ideas about schooling and where it could be improved by looking at other successful models of schooling internationally. While I was at first a little sensitive on reading the letter, the student was at pains to emphasise that her letter was not a critique of education at St Mary’s College. Rather, it was a thoughtful reflection on what Australian education is and what it could be.
I met with the student to express my gratitude for the letter and to compliment her on her thoughts and ideas. While she was a little nervous to begin with, we had an interesting discussion about education at St Mary’s, and how we are working to broaden education at the College using the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate.
There were a few reasons why I was impressed by both the letter and her willingness to share her ideas. The first was that it indicated confidence to speak up in an appropriate and considered manner. The second was that she felt that she could and that she expected, or at least hoped, that her opinions would be considered and respected. The third reason that impressed me was that the student recognised that she had a voice and that it was okay to write to the College Principal about her school. I must say this letter and the subsequent meeting made my day.
Student voice is a growing area of interest in education as authorities and systems recognise the value of listening to and working with our key stakeholders, our students. It acknowledges that students have a unique perspective on learning, teaching and schooling and should have the opportunity to actively shape their own education. I guess an important question is ‘why is student voice important?’ Should students be given a say in their education and are they mature enough to meaningfully contribute to discussions about the nature of education and schooling? The short answer is yes!
Student voice is important for a number of reasons including that student achievement and engagement will increase when students have a sense of ownership of their learning and their community. What students have to say matters in how learning happens. Students also have untapped knowledge and expertise that can bring authenticity to classrooms and school change efforts. Finally, students benefit from opportunities to practise the problem solving, leadership and creative thinking required to participate in decision making in their school community.The lesson for all of us in education is to speak less and listen more – probably a good thing all round.
Have a great weekend.
Dr Frank Pitt
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