Should Student Voice be part and parcel of School Culture?

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David Hargreaves emphasized Student Voice is about students getting involved in all areas of school life. Students being or becoming more involved in the day to day life of the school, importantly; being included in key decisions affecting their future.

To develop their voice, students need to develop the skills, understanding and confidence which may enable them to lead different student voice activities. It involves actively working with staff in a mature way so that students have a greater say in the way a school is run and organised, and about how the school is moving forward. Consequently, for this to happen successfully, a reflection on school culture and ethos needs to be considered.

Hargreaves identified 9 gateways to help schools achieve a school culture where personalised learning is central to its environment. Student Voice naturally encompasses each gateway, so ‘‘School culture is not a means to an end, but an end in itself’’

dg Adapted from ‘A new shape for schooling? Professor David Hargreaves, 2006

We will explore some of these gateways in greater depth over the next couple of months. However, here are a few to get you thinking:

Gateway example 1: Assessment for learning:

This is about the way students’ work is assessed, and the way lessons are taught to focus on learning and understanding. It involves providing opportunities for students to work with teachers to check understanding, discuss progress and agree next steps and targets. At its best, assessment for learning helps students to take more control and be more independent.

Gateway example 2: Advice and guidance

This gateway is to do with setting up systems and teams of people – who are not necessarily teachers – to make sure students are given advice and guidance about decision affection their learning and future. This might, for example, be to do with advice about which options to choose to fit with plans for future careers. Or it could be to do with guidance on health issues. Student input into advice and guidance could be through peer mediation teams. It might also involve students working together to set up online advice and websites to provide information about choices, who produce newsletters or radio programmes, or who act as buddies to give guidance.

Case study: Big Picture Learning Schools

‘‘School culture is not a means to an end, but an end in itself’’

This is a great quote by Big Picture Learning Schools, who believe students should be encouraged to be leaders and school leaders to be visionaries. Big Picture Learning Schools strive to create a respectful, diverse, create, exciting, and reflective culture. A culture of respect and equality exists between students and adult. Students are encouraged to take a leadership role in the school and student voice is valued in decision making process.

Check out their video.

Essential Elements of school culture include:

  • Intense focus on school culture
  • Students are comfortable talking with adults about academic and personal issues
  • Verbal and written reflection shared among staff members
  • Rituals (e.g. new student orientation; International Night; alumni reunions; etc.)
  • Pick Me Ups (formal time to start each day as a community)
  • A focus on professional development/life-long learning for staff members
  • Inter-grade & across-grade student groupings
  • Democratic governance
  • Student leadership
  • Respect and caring
  • Diversity recognized and celebrated
  • Clear policies and expectations for behaviour
  • Emphasis on reflection
  • High attendance rate
  • High graduation rate
  • High college acceptance rate
  • Low dropout rate
  • Fun!

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