Student Voice is an invaluable element of the Lavers Hill College culture.
The whole school has a voice
Student Voice is a key focus for our College, and figures highly in our recently developed Strategic Plan. In this article I have included examples of how student voice is developing and flourishing at the College.
Our College Captains lead the school assembly on a Monday morning and it is a delight to witness their confidence and ease in speaking to their fellow students. As staff we ensure that it is the students who report, reflect on, and celebrate, the College’s achievements and experiences.
The senior students hold a ‘student voice forum’ each Wednesday morning. Facilitation is rotated and an agenda is developed to guide and focus discussions. These sessions are highly entertaining and we see many students gaining in confidence and sharing both their ideas and personalities. With 28 students from Year 9-12 involved it is a witty, relaxed, at times irreverent, but always memorable forum. Staff are welcome and it is a pleasure to hear from the students – to learn more of how they are thinking and what their concerns are. As teachers we engage, we try to be succinct and aim to ‘ask’ much more than ‘tell’.
I think there’s capacity for adults to be genuinely curious in regard to the students’ thoughts and feelings, and we should seek to know more by asking timely questions. As staff, we are also reflecting on a how we provide effective and supportive feedback and how we can steer away from blaming, commenting or judging. We are seeking to catch ourselves and stop if our words may disempower or quieten (silence) our students. Listening well and tuning into the students interests further underpins our focus on supporting students to develop and have a sense of ownership of their learning plans and how they best learn.
We are very fortunate too also have a strong Primary School leadership culture. Our Grade 5-6 leaders love to show visitors around the College, create events and projects, and to lead the end of the week assembly on a Friday afternoon. After presenting awards and sharing achievements from the week the leaders design and play games with our youngest students. At this time the older students gather waiting for the buses and watching the younger students with a great sense of support and acknowledgement. Parents are often here at this time and assemblies become an important community event that speaks worlds for how we believe our students ‘are at the centre’ of our College.
As the week began with student voice, led by the Senior School Captains, so it ends as the Primary Leaders who wrap up the week with awards and achievements, and wish their friends ‘a great weekend’.
Student Voice in the Middle Years
Student voice in the ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ is one driver for success. We live by the 6 Cs: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Citizenship, and Character; and they’re all built around the students ‘having their say’. Middle Years students voices are heard in the development of units they will undertake. Their input into the development of the key questions that frame the unit allow them to direct their learning and their teachers to scaffold it for further success.
When units are up and running, students have further direct impact on how they will share their learning. Projects undertaken, connections to the outside world and invitations for our local community to come into the school all involve our students sharing their thoughts and make connections with others. Collaboration is important!
Within our Middle Years community, teachers have encouraged reflection. Students are encouraged to talk about themselves as learners and have developed learning plans that reflect this. They also share this with their parents. We are aware of the importance of student voice to the learner and create opportunities for reflection during lessons, at the end of lessons and units. Communication is all important too.
Reflection on Student Voice and its importance for learning
Upon arriving at Lavers Hill College as the new Assistant Principal I was immediately struck by the established culture of providing opportunities for students to become active participants in their education, including making decisions about what and how they learn and how their learning is assessed. The approach was to acknowledge the right of students to have a “voice” in their education and the school environment.
Research over many years including more recently the highly influential findings of John Hattie has shown that has shown conclusively the power of Student Voice in improving student outcomes. By encouraging and valuing the ideas, opinions and aspirations of students a culture is developed where they gain, autonomy, confidence and responsibility.
I have witnessed first hand students developing these skills and actively engaging in their learning through individual learning projects that have real academic rigour and challenge.
When one looks at the skills required of 21st Century workplaces the connection between Student Voice and the individual skills of self-regulation, motivation, communication and co-operation become clear.
Lavers Hill K-12 College is modelling best practice in preparing students for the social and economic demands of our time. Gone are the days when each worker learnt a prescribed set of skills based on a fixed amount of knowledge and repeated these without very much change over a lifetime of work.
Our students have entered a digital technologies rich world where lifelong learning is required to actively participate in a rapidly changing employment landscape. The skills they learn through the power of Student Voice will empower them to compete in an interconnected global environment.