Who gets to speak? Who is silenced? Who is listened to and who is ignored? What can we do about this?
It is very important that all student voices are heard, as the outcomes of student voice are much more relevant when wemake an effort to amplify and hear all opinions– no matter how inconvenient they are and how difficult they are to listen to. Seeing everyone’s perspective, and hearing from a broad range of students is crucial to good practice in student voice, but the reality is that some voices are louder, and some voices are not heard at all.
Arguably the most important factor that schools need to address when attempting to provide authentic student voice opportunities, is that of inclusion. All students must feel that they are given the opportunity to participate and be heard. Schools need to provide the support to ensure this.
– Teacher, Malvern Secondary College Victoria –
1. Convenient and Inconvenient Student Voice
Do we only listen to the voices that we already agree with? The ones that say positive things; the ones that say it politely?
We have to make sure that all voices are heard… not just the loud ones.
– Student, Mt Alexander College, Victoria –
International advocate and author on Student Voice Adam Fletcher, points out that there are convenient and inconvenient student voices. It is easier to only listen to convenient voices, from students who present ideas neatly and in a polite way, but it is equally as important to regard inconvenient student voice. Inconvenient voices, which can take many forms, from graffiti to arguments with teachers, often represent a group of students whose voices can be easily dismissed, but are just as important to listen to when making decisions within the school and student representative teams.
Convenient student voice happens whenever adults know who is going to speak, what is going to be said, where its going to be shared, when its going to happen, and what the outcomes are going to be. Adults might not have written the script, but what’s going to be said is no surprise to them …
Inconvenient student voice happens when students express themselves in ways that aren’t predictable. They share ideas, shout out thoughts, take action, reflect harshly, or critique severely. They write, draw, graffiti, paint, play, sing, protest, research, build, deconstruct, rebuild, examine, and do things that adults don’t know, understand, approve of, or otherwise predict…
– Adam Fletcher, SoundOut –
*Unsure of what is convenient and inconvenient student voice at your school? Try starting a discussion with your Student Representative Team using our worksheet.
2. Silenced Voices
Many other student voices may simply not be heard. These may be the voices of students who are quiet, shy, unconfident, speak another language, or don’t believe students can or should speak up. As a result, these students’ voices and views are not heard, they can feel undervalued, they are not represented instudent representative teams and other groups, and their experiences and skills are not available to the school.
There are so many examples of this, but students who are silenced often include those who are new to a school, students from refugee or indigenous backgrounds, students struggling with anxiety, or those who feel they are not as smart as others or unworthy of a voice.
I put in the SRC application form to the teachers, which was hard because my English is not so good. I did not even get an interview. All the questions were about what leadership roles I had already had in the school, and there was nowhere to tell them about all the important things that I had done in the refugee camp, such as running my own cooking business and looking after my little sisters after our parents were killed.
– English as an Additional Language Student –
Student participation and leadership opportunities that respectfully recognise and celebrate difference and prior experience…are a valuable but largely untapped resource for SRCs.
– Secondary school teacher –
3. Whose Responsibility?
Student representative teams and schools should always make an effort to recognise and listen to inconvenient, unheard, and silenced voices when making decisions. All members of a school community share responsibility for making sure that student voice is inclusive.
This responsibility can start with students themselves, as student leaders need to hear the voices of the widest cross selection of their student body as possible. This could suggest actively seeking out those students who aren’t engaged already. While not all students choose to be involved in student voice activities, all students should be offered the opportunity in a way that is most accessible for them. This inclusivity of differing views and opinions can also be included in the makeup of student representative teams:
Some schools have designated SRC roles representing various interest groups, and look for balance by allocating specific numbers of members to each year level. [These] frequently rely on voting processes, however if the SRC’s role is to be representative of the broader community, it is important to consider the many subtle factors that may act as barriers to some students’ participation – such as popularity, self-confidence, social disadvantage, and level of engagement to school. It is [also] important to consider whether students who transition to the school at non-typical times have realistic opportunities to be included.
– Educator, Early Years Project Coordinator, Foundation House –
Teachers also need to make sure that all student voices are encouraged and heard in classrooms. In some cases, this may mean differentiating information so that all students understand their right to have a say in their education. Being inclusive of all student voices can be done in many ways, even by simply having a conversation in the corridor, or, for teachers, attempting to understand the point of view of a disruptive student in their class. Recognising the opinions of a wide cross-section of students allows for a much more student-centred approach to teaching and learning.
Student-centred learning means that students who have not been confident in the past can become the leaders in the class that is tailored for their interests and skills.
– Student, Mt Alexander College –
Different ways of expressing student voice can be found in classroom programs and throughout the school:
… Hip Hop certainly has a place in the development of student voice in schools. The main attraction … is that it allows students to use an art form that they are familiar with to communicate issues about which they are passionate. In this way, it is good combination…
– Teacher, McCarthy Catholic College, NSW –
Student voice isn’t only about developing leadership skills in those few students already confident enough to put their hand up for an extra role, but should also be focused around gathering perspectives of the whole student body, and using these opinions to influence school decisions. Voices that are undervalued, and aren’t listened to can provide the most authentic picture of a school, and are immensely important to look at, listen to, and understand in all aspects of school and Student Representative Team level decision making.
4. Powerwalk Activity
Kate Wilde from the Human Development Workshop developed a ‘Powerwalk’ activity to encourage discussion about diversity and the building of empathy. This activity was used as part of the VicSRC’s Student Voice Workshops while led by Kate.
For details on how to run this activity see the Powerwalk resource. This activity is suitable for the classroom or any other student group and is good for small and larger groups.