Here are some ideas and tips about what being a representative means and how to be an effective representative for the students at your school.
1. What Does A Student Representative Do?
Congratulations, you’re a student representative! Maybe you’re a class representative on the Student Representative Team, or perhaps you’re a student representative on a school committee or council… now what?
What does being a representative actually mean? It’s not something to take casually. You aren’t there to pursue your own interests or to make yourself look good. Your job is to voice the concerns of the students you represent and try to achieve the things they want. Think about how you would want your representative to behave – and act like that. It’s quite a big responsibility!
You need to know what you intend to do in the job, have a plan for how you will fulfil the requirements of the role and make time to carry it out. Your plan should include times to be visible and available to the students you represent, attend meetings, collect ideas and report to class and assemblies.
A good representative should be able to notice when something isn’t right in the school, and always be on the lookout for issues that need to be bought under the Student Council’s attention. Being a good representative means always keeping in touch with what students want, and sometimes it means standing up for decisions and negotiating them with students, teachers or the principal.
Being on the Student Representative Team isn’t just about meeting every now and again to brainstorm ideas. You should try to have an unbiased view of what is important to all students, so that you can represent all views and opinions. The best way to do this is to constantly consult students on what action they want to happen in your school, and bring this to meetings with your Student Representative Team.
2. The Tough Side of Being A Representative
Not all of your work includes sitting in meetings and making decisions. Your class might want to take an initiative as a group and need a representative to help them organise and bring the initiative into action or your class might want an issue raised for discussion with teachers, and ask you to be their representative. Students might just be angry and want you to ‘do something!’
You might have to listen to their complaints and problems. Often the hardest thing about being a representative is not to take sides and help the group work out their own solutions.
Despite these difficulties, it’s important to push on and try to gather as wide a range of opinions as possible, so that the Student Council can make an informed decision about which needs to be met. After all, a representative needs to represent all students in their school, not just their own assumptions of them.
After a decision is made, it’s sometimes hard to stand up and speak for the group and its decisions, especially if you personally disagree. If these things sound difficult, find someone to help you. There might be a more experienced representative or the Student Council support teacher who can guide you. There might be other representatives with the same challenges; in that case, a training session could be helpful. You could get someone from the local Student Representative Team cluster or network, or from a training organisation to come and help run this session.
Being a representative isn’t always easy, but there is always someone to help if you look hard enough. And because it is not easy, it is the best opportunity to learn.
3. Connecting with Students
Your main objective as a representative is to seek and share the views, opinions and needs of the student body you represent. Sometimes this is not easy to do and requires thoughtful planning and consideration.
Some resources and ideas to help you include:
- VicSRC’s ALTER model of action
- Everyone’s Voice
- The Powerwalk Activity
- Student Representative Feedback Sheet
4. Meeting Preparation
Don’t just walk into a meeting without thought or preparation. Think, prepare, organise!
- Think about what was discussed at the last meeting (look at the minutes or talk to other members who were there), what is to be talked about this time (the agenda) and what you might want to say and achieve. Be sure to take into account the issues you have discussed with students since last meeting, and get these issues on the agenda (even if you don’t use a written agenda make sure to bring these issues up).
- Prepare your folder of notes and previous minutes, any reports you need to make, any suggestions you want to propose, and your arguments for or against the items on the agenda. If you can’t turn up to the meeting and have a good reason, make sure you put in an apology or tell someone before the meeting.
- Organise a discussion of the agenda in your home group, other representatives to support your views and for your proposals to be put on the agenda (see the chairperson before the meeting).
Each SRC member is responsible for seeking advice, feedback and issues from their class and peers, then reporting back at SRC meetings.
Student, Coatesville PS, Victoria
*check out our “SRC Agenda” and “SRC Meeting Minutes” templates for further information.
5. Meeting with your Student Representative Team
During the meeting, you need to be focused so that you can actively participate in discussions: giving ideas and putting forward other students’ views.
Everyone is responsible for making the meeting a success: helping information to be shared and helping everyone to agree on what to do. That means everyone listens to others, considers their views seriously and tries to reach agreement.
If you want the meeting to decide something, you can put forward a motion(related resource) and try to get support from other representatives. Some Student Representative Teams don’t use this formal process but it can be helpful to start with to ensure everyone has their voice heard.
It’s a good idea to have a folder dedicated to Student Representative Team meetings. You can use this to keep all the meeting papers and notes together. Write down the important things that happen. Even at this stage, think about how you can make these things clear and interesting to your class group or year level when you report back to them. This might lead you to ask questions that the meeting should consider now.
eg. The Student Representative Team provides all representatives with a clipboard folder for meetings. During a meeting, the secretary keeps notes of what is happening and what has been decided (the minutes) on a laptop and these are run off immediately after the meeting. Within a day, all representatives have a copy of the minutes, including an action summary, to put into their folders. They can then use this as a reminder and an accurate record, to report to their classes and to assemblies in the next few days.
6. Taking Action
Now that the Student Representative Team has discussed what needs to happen, it’s time to make it happen! If the group has decided on some action, you might have tasks to do: letters to write, people to see, activities to organise. There should be an action column included in the minutes, or someone who records who’s doing what and by when. Make sure that you get these done by the agreed time.
This is a very crucial part of the process of making change that a lot of Student Representative Team leave behind. The real change that you make in your school dictates your reputation amongst students, and their faith in you to get the important issues on the agenda.
Once you have taken action on an issue in your school it is important to feedback your success to the student body. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a little, but don’t go overboard either.
Some helpful tools include:
7. What do you need?
Remember, these tasks take time. You will need time to read and prepare for meetings, attend meetings, and follow up the actions you need to take. It’s good to treat Student Representative Team almost as an another subject, and not let your commitments as a student representative slip to last priority after schoolwork and other things you do.
Some of this time might be in class: time to report, discuss and debate. In all of these activities, you will be learning and demonstrating different skills and knowledge. Many of these are already part of the curriculum: public speaking, writing correspondence, keeping minutes, making posters, contributing to discussions, teaching other students, keeping a budget, etc.
There might be ways of getting your time, effort and learning recognised as part of your schoolwork. You may be able to get time to work for the Student Representative Team during class time and get credit for your work. But you will need to negotiate this with your teachers in advance. Try using our Quiz about School support for your Student Representative Team to start discussions with your teachers or school leadership.
Just remember that, if it’s getting too much, take a step back for a little bit and gather your thoughts. Being a Student representative is important, but not as important as your wellbeing or enjoying yourself at school.