Student and Teacher Voice

I attended a Secondary Principals meeting today and there were many topics on the agenda but the one that has stuck with me and brought me to the keyboard to compose this post is the one about Student Voice. It was interesting as SO Patrick Keyes presented a ministry document that basically gave a continuum for student voice that ranges from the most minute input of young people to a point where students are co creating expectations and evaluations within a classroom. We as principals were asked to give examples from our schools of the different levels and really no one in the room was able to point to anything at the most advanced level of “SHARED LEADERSHIP”. I am sure that people could recall a single teacher who is “off the wall” or “outside the box” enough to qualify for this but there was no sense that any of this type of leadership and student voice was heard in schools.

There may be a number of reasons for this and I am sure that they all have merit but frankly I am having a hard time caring about any of them. That sounds severe but I just can’t reconcile in my head how listening to and truly acting on student voice is a bad thing. I even asked my colleagues, (all more experienced than me), why we all cannot come up with examples of times where student voice is heard and there were plenty of reasons. The key one seems to be that it takes time to create a culture of safety and trust. Teachers have to be confident enough to take criticism about what happens in their class and to do something with that. This is hard enough from even a principal, much less a student. Teachers also have to be willing to take a risk of letting go of control and seeing where the students take things.

I say this and as I type I can tell how self-righteous and judgemental I sound. I have to apply this to my own leadership as well. If I am to apply the same logic to my own role then I have to allow teacher voice to impact me as well. I have to figure out a means to accept feedback from my staff and to build on it. I have to be willing to hear those things that I probably don’t want to hear and still do something with them. And toughest of all I have to be willing to listen to the people that I totally disagree with and who’s ideas about education literally make my skin crawl, and gleen something out of that which will help me to serve them as well. After all, I was not appointed principal of people who agree with me, so I have to get there somehow.

Now this is not going to be all hugs and kisses though!! While I will look for ways to solicit voice and to consider all angles I will not allow empty or hollow criticism to deter my leadership. You all know what “hollow” criticism is, but in case anyone is unclear I will define how it has crystalized for me. I define “hollow” criticism as:

  • criticism that does not come directly to me. I have to stop entertaining the person who comes into my office and closes the door to tell me what “people” are talking about. I can work with anyone that wants to look me in the eyes but there is nothing I can do about “people” so I wont spend any more time on them (too much else to do)
  • criticism that has a problem with change or new ideas simply because they are new. It has become a tired excuse to say that it is human nature to not like change because the human world has changed at such a rapid pace that it must be false. If change needs to happen, then change WILL happen.
  • criticism that does not offer solutions or alternatives. Please don’t tell me how it can’t or won’t work; let’s talk about your ideas to make it work.

These may sound severe but I have to be honest about where I am coming from and where I am going to. There is still a lot for me to do to hear all the voices in my school but I think I have turned a corner with the idea of student, (and as an extension, teacher) voice. We all need to look for ways to listen to student voice and to consider what they are saying so as to improve our practice.

Should be interesting and will probably be interesting to hear the voices that come from reading this post. Would love to hear what people think, but let’s leave with some more voice…

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One Response to Student and Teacher Voice

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and video clips. Very powerful.

    As a Student Work Study Teacher (SWST) we honour student voice which we know can often drive teacher voice. This stance of student and teacher as co-learners engaged in an iterative process of knowledge building and reflection leads to responsive teaching and learning. At the heart of this and any life experience is the notion of relationship. The effort of creating spaces where the student and teacher voice is mutually and respectfully supportive, while also challenging in order to push thinking, is well worth it.

    Michele Kubecka
    SWST TCDSB

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