In a post-Covid world, school climate is more important than ever. Teaching and learning practices need to address major learning gaps and students need to feel connected to a school community. It is hard to argue that virtual instruction can truly replace in-person instruction; thus, many students faced severe learning deficits in the past couple of years. Today, teachers are working tirelessly to meet the needs of students in a way they have never experienced before. Schools must also address the social and emotional needs of students knowing that they need to feel a sense of belonging to increase their chances of success. One research-based approach to improving school climate and addressing the current challenges is using student voice.
Student voice can have different meanings. It can be defined as students simply sharing their thoughts and opinions or it can mean students having an opportunity to collaborate with adults in the decision-making process (Conner, 2022; Mitra, 2018; Jones & Bubb, 2021). Both levels of input have value and can contribute to a more positive school climate. For instance, when teachers invite students to share feedback on their teaching practices, the students have an opportunity to express their needs and what they feel will help meet those needs. This is important because students have a unique perspective of teaching and learning as they experience it firsthand (Conner, 2022). With student feedback, teachers have another data point to help guide their instructional practices to best serve the students.
Another benefit to using student voice approaches is that students feel more connected to their school community when they know their voices are being heard. One strategy to accomplish this is to organize student teams to meet with staff and school leaders to express concerns, identify issues, and help to determine solutions (Voight, 2015; Voight & King-White, 2021). Students will feel respected and valued when they know school staff are truly listening to them (Mitra, 2018). With that, every opportunity for open dialogue between teachers and students will lead to awareness of others and the acceptance of differences. Student voice allows teachers and staff members to learn from the lived experiences of students which helps create an understanding which is particularly important for students from diverse backgrounds who traditionally have been underrepresented (Cook-Sather, 2020; Giraldo-Garcia et al., 2020).
If school leaders and teachers want to improve the climate of their schools, I strongly suggest they consider student voice approaches. Many students have a strong sense of their academic and social-emotional needs and with guidance from their teachers, they will be able to communicate those needs and feel like a valued member of the school community. And if you’re looking for more ways to increase student voice in your classroom and schools, check out Amplify Student Voices: Equitable Practices to Build Confidence in the Classroom.