Integrating Student Voice into School Policy and Practice

I’ve been doing a lot of learning and reading about Human-Centered Design lately. A key aspect of that is integrating the people you design for into the design process, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what this might mean in education.

I came across this Harvard Graduate School of Education article today called Giving Students a Voice, which highlights five ways to integrate student voice into policy and practice. (Ironically I stumbled onto the article from reading an article on the Parkland shooting.) I thought it might offer some food for thought on how we might integrate more meaningful student voice in our practices and policies. I’d be interested to hear what others think of the article, or the idea in general.

We’ve done this in the past. A big element of our most recent strategic plan came about through the voice of one student included in the process. I think we can do better.

Student Voice should be so common that it becomes exceptional not to have it, rather than it being something noteworthy because of its rarity.

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Great article Mike, thanks for sharing! We’ve talked about this pretty extensively in one of the classes that I am taking. I really like the idea of having students have a large stake in the discipline aspects of the school. When you open it up to discussion you would be surprised at how well our students understand what rules and subsequent consequences should be in place to protect all learners. It’s always a great starting point for a conversation because what I have noticed is that students are actually much harsher on themselves in terms of discipline than the teachers or administration would be. (I would say it is akin to the scores they give themselves when you ask them to justify what grade they deserve on a particular assignment.)

I think we know that this is something that should be addressed at each site; however, the question is how do we choose student representatives and what powers do we extend to them? If we as a district have done this in the past, how was it set up and how were representatives fairly chosen? What powers were given to them in the past? My biggest question is, why did we move away from this practice? Was there an issue, or did leadership change, or did we just somehow forget?

I don’t believe we’ve done something formal with student representation on a regular basis in the past, but SECA has had a Student Leadership committee. Other sites may have tried or are doing similar things.

I wonder, does it need to be a representative model? Not that this model is a bad thing, but it does seem to be our default response to create a student committee or student representatives. For me, as a student, those never seemed to work and always seemed to evolve into popularity contests. I always used to think, “Why do I have to win an election to have my voice heard?”

I’ve always felt that student voice should be all-inclusive. If a student has something to say, I want to hear it, directly from them and not through a student representative. That’s a government model, not a customer service/design thinking model?

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The other problem with representatives at an ALC is the high turnover.

The SECA student council (whoever wants to be part of it the day it is meeting - counts towards community service) has sometimes gone out during advisory and surveyed other students on things staff would like to get input about.

I’m wondering if there is a way to get students more involved with the RJ processes (may be tough given how small the community is and how likely they would be to “have a side”?)

I second Mike’s sentiment that something is lacking about “student government” style representative models. Those can be very good for certain kinds of decision making, student-led initiatives, etc. If they are democratic models, that is a good representation of how things are done in the real world. Other times, though, and I’ve seen this in our building, student advisory boards have just been a group of arbitrarily selected students. Along these lines, I’ve been talking with some staff about putting together a cadre of staff and students to go to look at some other alternative schools, so that they can actually see what is out there and make informed recommendations about what they want school to look like. Still, this would only include the voices of a small group of students.

I would echo Mike in that I’d like to see our school, in particular, have a more inclusive listening process. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. In the past we have done some big group things where we had students contribute language to our PBIS motto and things like that… it never felt really meaty though.

I routinely hear from students who express in one way or another that they don’t feel listened to. A common one is when students try to warn staff about student conflicts that are ongoing. Those students are often dismissed as “stirring up drama” or we tell them they would do better to “just focus on you.” Then a fight happens in the cafeteria and the students say, “we tried to tell you dumb asses.” This literally happened last week, but it’s not the only time. Sorry if this is getting sidetracked… my point is that I think we need to somehow be “set up” to listen and be more responsive.

I don’t know, isn’t it as simple as acting on those reports? We as a staff at SECA are asked to keep an ear out for drama stirring and let support staff know as soon as possible who we heard is involved so that they can get RJ circles happening preemptively (to fighting).

Good points, Leslie. I think we try to do the best we can in that regard and are routinely intervening in situations, having proactive circles as you described, repairing situations. That’s the norm. But we still have situations where there are maybe too many moving parts, or something gets missed, or misread, or mis-communicated.

Reading my post above, I sort of made it seem like staff in my program are dismissive of students when they bring issues to the table. That is most definitely not the case, we have a community of rich relationships and staff are very responsive when it comes to issues/drama. We’ve only had a few fights this whole year actually. I think when I wrote that I was showing some recency bias based on a fresh incident that occurred.

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I agree that students cannot be arbitrarily chosen, but we do need to find a selection process that would be fair to all students and give us a representative pulse on what is happening and how students really feel about their education. I love the idea of taking students to other schools in order to see innovative ideas in education, but I think the logistics of the whole process would be a huge barrier. What I would like to see in our schools is more incorporation of cross discipline classes. Our students have not been successful at traditional schools and running a school with 6-7 periods with separate, unrelated classes seems like we’re just giving them more of the same and in effect we are setting them up for failure. (At least that seems to be what is occurring here at Gateway.)

I would like to try combining classes and studying a real world problem and then letting students earn the credits that they need for that class. For example, why can’t biology and economics be taught at the same time in the same class with two different teachers? Students in the class could focus their studies based on their credit needs while seeing that these subjects don’t exist within a vacuum. I know this isn’t the focus of this post, it’s just an idea to throw out to the students and start a conversation around what needs to be done differently.

Deep down some part of me feels like the world has fundamentally changed, yet our teaching and learning has remained in a perpetual Henry Ford state of affairs.

You mind if I tweet this out? With attribution of course.

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Of course!

I just read this fantastic, eye-opening article by Alexia Wiggins, daughter of the famous Grant Wiggins regarding what it is like to spend two days in a student’s shoes. Although we were all students at one point in time, I think that we have forgotten what it is like to be a part of the high school experience. This article really makes me realize that I have been approaching so many things all wrong and that my school needs to focus on how to alter the way in which we function in order to better serve our students.

I think that a particularly strong notion that resonated with me from this article is the idea that students are passively sitting almost all day and being expected to absorb information almost 90% of the time with little to no input on how or what they learn. When the author drew an analogy of our existing high school experience being akin to how we feel by the end of a day of PD or conferences, I cringed. Yes, it’s great to feel that way once in a while but day after day… explains why so many of our students have struggled in the mainstream high schools. This makes me realize that it is more than grades or effort that are the problem with students being successful.

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This is a great article, Rob, thanks for sharing it. I’ve tweeted it out, and it directly connects to one of the main tenets of Design Thinking too.

I absolutely agree with everything in it!