Lessons from Social Education Victoria (SEV)’s Laura Newman show that when student voice is promoted in the classroom, teachers can sometimes feel hesitant to be fully onboard: “student voice, and the inherent threat to teacher power and authority that this involves, is a different kind of discomfort.”
Newman encourages all teachers to get comfortable with this discomfort. We cannot agree more and think nothing can diffuse this feeling better than presenting the student’s perspective. We spoke with 2023 VicSRC Ambassador, Cate (they/them), for their take and personal experience on exercising student voice, agency and participation.
VicSRC – Why do you think schools engaging with student voice can lead to better outcomes?
Cate - When students have a mechanism to create change, shape a perspective or provide feedback, they're more passionate about the work they're doing because they feel heard. Teachers have this in the sense of a teacher's union, as students, we seek to build our mechanisms to achieve these goals of being heard, seen and supported.
VicSRC - Could you share some examples of seeing better outcomes with student voice engagement from your school/experiences?
Cate - At my school, engagement with student voice has led to a series of changes, we took on students’ suggestion to use convex mirrors to alleviate the high traffic in the corridor, our new sex education curriculum was driven by students, as was the establishment of a sensory space in the library. In addition, there has been a high level of student consultation in the hiring of staff internally and externally, like assistant principal or other equivalent roles.
VicSRC - In August, you were the student representative in our teacher’s workshop to speak about student voice. In that workshop, we had teachers sitting in groups discussing what they thought student voice would look like in their school, do you have a memorable moment or an interesting observation from observing that session?
Cate - I thought the teacher's brainstorming session was very insightful, it was an eye-opener for sure. I didn't realise how much I forgot from primary school. In some ways, the teachers were open to the process, but whilst some things we said struck a chord with people, other bits didn't. I loved speaking to both prep and senior school teachers. Some of them really explored those preliminary problems faced in establishing student voice.
When asked what they would like to see schools doing better if they want to start supporting student voice more meaningfully, Cate implored the Department of Education for more funding for schools and organisations that support student voice. ‘I am very sure in my belief that without funding allocations in school for leadership attendance at [VicSRC] events, or money to run fundraisers, then our future leaders could lose their passion, ingenuity and creativity.'