As part of our Future of Schools podcast series, I recently had a fascinating discussion with Dr Paula Flynn, Professor at the School of Inclusive and Special Education, DCU. We explored the concept of Student Voice and her experience implementing Student Voice programs in Ireland.
What is Student Voice?
Student Voice is about listening to students and empowering them to act on what they want their schools and education to be like. Dr Flynn started her projects working mainly with students with social and emotional behavioural issues but has expanded to facilitate programs in mainstream schools. Dr Flynn, using her methodology for implementing a Student Voice program talks of the impact of students growing in confidence and owning the output of their own decisions and developing caring relationships with colleagues.
Implementing new programs in schools can be challenging as there is a lot of “initiative fatigue” where teachers and principals are constantly approached with new ideas and programs. Student Voice projects can be a frightening proposition for schools particularly where there can be a trust gap between students and staff. The power dynamic in a school is challenged when implementing a Student Voice program as teachers and students are asked to listen and understand each other more than they might be used to. Despite these challenges, Dr Flynn’s research shows that this often leads to a much healthier relationship between students and staff in a school. This can be observed by students reporting being more happy, feeling more empowered, feeling more confidence and improved behaviour and school completion rates.
A positive effect on culture
Dr Flynn talks to the need for facilitators of Student Voice programs to be comfortable with the fact that they do not have all of the answers. This takes the focus off getting the “right answer” and on to the most meaningful and motivating thing for anyone, to be implementing their own ideas. Engaging in a Student Voice program at your school has a positive effect on the culture of the school and the relationship between teachers and students. Enabling students to have confidence and have ownership of their own experience of school can lead to a more inclusive environment and can be very beneficial for any school.