Supporting Student Voice – time-wasting or time well-spent?

Tips on using time on student empowerment from our Partner Schools community

#partner schools 
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In August, VicSRC met with schools from across the state to hear about the most pressing challenges in implementing student voice in the classroom. So we wanted to share learnings from our community to showcase the good practices where time is allocated effectively to embed student voice.  

#1 The enemy is not time, but the timetable

At the MACS Student Wellbeing Conference, keynote speaker Professor Helen Cahill shared that more often than not, it is the timetable, rather than the scarcity of time itself, that poses the barrier to making room for student voice in the classroom. In our meetings with Partner Schools, we also noticed schools achieving great progress with student voice often have dedicated timeslots for student voice initiatives in their timetable.

For instance, one Partner School has a monthly session where all students and teachers will get together to discuss their learning goals and progress with a learning matrix pre-defined by students. Students with similar goals will form a group, and the teacher can walk around to assist with the conversations. Another has their junior SRT running a fortnightly class activity to discuss a set topic as part of their consultative research, with teachers providing onsite support. 

Have you designated a slot in your timetable to engage student voice? Setting aside time regularly, regardless of the frequency, can help both students and teachers to expect and plan how they can utilise the allocated timeslot to share feedback, conduct research, and discuss how to collaborate better for greater outcomes.

#2 Be a scaffolder – help students to help you teach with greater impact  

When collecting student voice, conducting a school survey is a common but lengthy option. One Partner School reflected with us that while a lot of schools tend to get students to complete a survey, they don’t necessarily put in the time to unpack the survey results with students afterwards. To engage students in the post-survey process, this Partner School shared the findings with student representatives over 1-2 sessions, and then let them conduct and collate the analysis on their own in the weeks after. The student reps were then invited to present at the regular staff meeting where their analysis and recommendations became instrumental to the improvement process on the survey topic for the school.

As elaborated by Professor Cahill, where student voice is involved to inform or reform classroom learning, teachers can think about the skills they use to teach, and then invite students to use the same skills and validate them for using them. “So you haven't got as much time for you to do a lot of talking, but maybe what you do do is going to stick better in their learning.” As Professor Cahill reiterated, despite the challenges with time, students would learn and remember better in a collaborative approach.  

For instance, one Partner School recounted to us that their original learning plan did not work well with students because they just don’t quite grasp how to set SMART goals yet. Instead, they took on the scaffolder role to help students generate a learning matrix, which is then used widely and effectively by the students for their ongoing self-assessment.

#3 Role model behaviour while using problem-solving tools

If you have purchased our SRT Toolkit or read through our Represent guidebook, you would have come across the many problem-solving tools that we have presented – ALTER, POOCH, or DIVAE. From the talk delivered by Professor Cahill, we learnt that the tree tool is one that was used to start conversations with students. The tree being a problem-solving tool for an issue, students are then asked to visualise the possible causes in the tree roots, the strategies to be employed in the branches, and the positive and negative symptoms that shoot out of the branches as leaves.

Whether it is the tree tool or the ALTER model, Professor Cahill emphasized that in conducting collaborative learning tasks such as these, students tend to model the behaviour of the teachers. If a teacher employs invitational questions like “who can build on what”, “what so and so just said” and “who can add one other thing there”, students would do the things that teachers do in their own group discussions too. Teachers are not only the scaffolders but also the role models to share and develop student voice. More of how Professor Cahill uses tree tool in her research to collect student voice can be found here.

#4 Incorporate student voice activities as part of their learning assessment

Whenever a student takes time to research issues, consult with other students, write proposals, conduct presentations, or even write meeting minutes or reports, they are demonstrating core skills that would have been taught in the curriculum such as numeracy and literacy skills. In fact, a few Partner Schools have told us they have been giving credit to students for the tasks they have completed in the SRC and special committees.

Goal-writing, meeting minutes, reports, and research reports can be accepted as equivalent to essays and assignments. More on this topic can be found on p129-132 in Represent.

#5 Identify areas outside the classroom that can be turned from teacher-led to student-led

Empowering student voice can occur outside the classroom. If you have an SRC set up, you may discuss with your SRC what improvements they would like to see from the school or ask them for their thoughts on a current improvement project. Instead of completing the whole process on your own, engaging students can help to lessen your workload and function as leverage for greater impact.

Some student-led initiatives that we have learnt from our Partner Schools:

  • Year 5 and Year 6 students running their parent-teacher meetings - with the guidance of the teachers, they will have their notes completed before the meeting. On the day, they are responsible for presenting to their parents about their learning progress and learning goals. The process plays a significant role in training students to be self-reliant learners and honing their communication skills.

  • Junior SRC taking the lead to evaluate the school’s arts program - teachers provide onsite support in the consultation, but the students take the lead in breaking the class into groups, hosting activities to collect their responses, and then analysing and presenting the data to the teacher as part of the improvement process for the program.

About the author

Winnie Tsang VicSRC Partnerships & Engagement Coordinator

Email: [email protected]

Pronouns: she/her

Winnie holds a master’s degree in arts & cultural management from the University of Melbourne and has since then worked in philanthropy and community fundraising in the arts and mental health sector. Originally from Hong Kong specialized in B2B marketing and corporate account servicing, Winnie is looking forward to advocating for student agency through strategic partnerships with schools and educators. At home, Winnie is literally cooking up a storm as she is collaborating with her bestie to launch an online channel cooking and reviewing the best vegan recipes.