‘Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.’ Alfie Kohn
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child sets out that children have the right to an opinion which is listened to and acted seriously. Not only should we be listening to our children and young people but we need to trust and value their opinions and act on them.
Quaglia and Corso (2016) state that students should not only be expected to share their voice and be heard, but they should be expected to take responsibility for putting their voice into action to help others. Empowering students to use their voice and turn it into action is what authentic student voice is all about.
Take what you have heard and learn from it...
It is important to recognise that students, no matter their age, are the foremost experts of being a student. Some of our youngest students have powerful ideas to make change. They know things we as adults don’t. See their innovative solutions to problems that we as adults have spent years not solving.
As teachers and educational leaders there is an expectation to collect student, classroom and school data and use it to improve pedagogy, practice and culture. Data is more than just numbers, more than just test scores but they cannot provide educators everything. Teachers and leaders must see that data stretch beyond what is just expressed on the spreadsheets and go beyond just reading the reports. There are key players in school improvement...CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE.
Data can be interpreted in nuanced ways - we need to start seeing and interpreting it in partnership with children and young people through their lens. It is, in fact, their data.
Authentic Student Voice...How?
Consulting our children and young people is a way to respond to the needs of teachers and our students. For students exploring and unpacking the data develops a sense of empowerment and increases their sense of belonging. The first step is to have structured discussions with children and young people about their views and understanding of what the data reflects and means to them. Too often, we ignore their voices and make presumptions on their behalf.
ONLY THROUGH ACTION DO WORDS TAKE MEANING...
Select an area for site/classroom improvement; attendance, behaviour, wellbeing and academic achievement - literacy, numeracy etc. The key is as DATA. Show the students the data and ask them the following questions:
- What do you notice?
- What does it make you think?
- How does it make you feel?
- What else might you need to know?
- What can you tell us about it? What are your recommendations?
At the conclusion of this process, students select a member to report back to their peers, teachers and leaders and other community members to plan the next steps, TAKING ACTION.
It is important for students and adults to come together and work on collective ideas for change. This is a collaborative approach with the adult as a facilitator and partner in the process. This is not about the adult ‘taking over’ the process but partnering to provide support in terms of providing an inclusive environment where students are keen to explore and bee imaginative whilst fostering creativity. Student voice is about listening, learning from what is being said, and taking action together.
Once you open your eyes and ears to authentic student voice, and open your mind to their untapped knowledge and expertise, and your hand in a gesture of partnership, there is no limit to the positive impact.