Updated: Nov 8
This week I had the pleasure of presenting on the impact of student voice at a NJ leadership conference. At the beginning of the workshop, I asked the participants to identify their roles at work to ensure I can meet all of their needs. I was surprised to learn that the room was filled with school leaders from all levels: elementary, middle, and high school, as well as supervisors and directors at the district level. My area of expertise is at the secondary level, so I often think of older students when I focus on student voice. However, the presence of school leaders from the various levels let me know that student voice is important at every stage in education.
The first activity that I had participants engage in was a reflection of their schools’ climate. We read an excerpt from Amplify Student Voices: Equitable Practices to Build Confidence in the Classroom by AnnMarie Baines, Diana Medina, and Caitlin Healy and discussed their schools’ capacity for acceptance. Participants had to consider how accepting their school is of young people’s expression. I was pleased by the authentic and honest responses as school leaders shared how staff members need to examine their biases and put themselves in the students’ shoes to better understand them. It is important for educators to reflect on their current status before moving forward with any new approach or initiative.
After the reflection activity, I shared the benefits of student voice on school climate including improvements to pedagogy, academic achievement, engagement, and social skills. Once the participants had a solid understanding of reasons why student voice should be considered, we shared strategies and approaches. One particular strategy that stood out was from an elementary principal in a Pre-K to 4 school who shared that her fourth grade students run a podcast. She noted that she was skeptical at first, but she and her team were committed to creating a space for student voice. The principal shared that the fourth grade students have autonomy in choosing the guests they want to interview and that they collaborate with the teachers to create the interview questions. How amazing is this? The students must feel so empowered. Imagine being nine years old and having the ability to pick the people you want to hear from in your school and then ask them questions to better understand them. And let’s consider the other students - imagine being a student who is interviewed. You would feel like a valued member of your community which is so important to the school climate and academic achievement of the students.
Here are some of the guidelines for the podcast that the principal shared:
Fourth grade students are recommended by their teachers to participate.
All students can be eligible for interviews.
Interview questions are created in collaboration with a staff member(s) and fourth grade students.
Prior to my workshop, I had not considered podcasts as a means for student voice. I am so thankful to this participant for sharing her ideas and experience, as podcasts can be a great tool for any level of education. If you’re interested in starting one with your students, check out this common sense education site that includes the best podcast apps and websites for students.
As I am always here to learn and grow, I would love to hear from more educators at all levels who are intentionally using student voice practices. Comment below with strategies, approaches, programs, etc. that have been successful for you and your students.