Engaging students when shaping education curricula, assessments, and school or college policies can improve the educational environment.
But what should leadership teams, teachers and staff be conscious of when engaging the student voice? We have compiled a list of our top tips to help.
- Creating spaces for discussion is crucial. Whether organising think tanks, focus groups, debates or question time panels, the goal is to designate time and space to stimulating meaningful dialogue between staff and students.
- The more exchange there is, the higher the likelihood of achieving useful student impact.
- Open discussion where students feel able to speak honestly can be more productive than answering closed questions.
- The process of engaging and listening to the student voice will be more fruitful if it is ongoing, rather than one off. It takes time for both students and staff to learn the skills required for productive conversations; give the process time.
Consider the impact on other students
- The primary purpose of engaging the student voice might be to shape decisions made by leadership teams and teachers, but remember: students influence one another. For students to hear the views and ideas of other students can be useful in itself.
- Improve engagement among students across the school by creating a culture where it becomes normal for students to cooperatively shape their learning. This can encourage reflection and strengthen community.
- Embarking on change can involve taking risks – especially if the change involves allowing students greater control over the learning environment. It should be the role of leadership teams and teachers to manage risks and channel the student voice productively. Have faith that taking risks will produce positive results.
- Teachers may require training to learn techniques in how to listen and respond to students effectively. Think carefully about what students are saying and how their ideas might be achieved.
Learn from mistakes
- All students are different, and all learning environments are different. Inevitably, some initiatives and techniques for engaging the student voice will be more successful than others. Learn from experience about what engages your students.
- It may be helpful for teachers to have conversations between themselves to review initiatives.
- How do you know that a small student board is representative of the whole student body? You probably don’t. It might be safe to treat particular student voices as one of the sources of evidence that can be used to build a picture of the student voice.
- As well as creating student boards and representative roles, it may also be helpful to engage a larger sample of students in more open and inclusive discussion forums.