The right to voice
Transcript of interview with Madonna King, Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan and Mitchell Robertson
Madonna: Welcome to season two of Podclass, a series of conversations that delve deeper into the world of educators. I'm Madonna King and I'm excited again to be unpacking some of the important issues that face teachers and parents today.
Intro: Teachers help shape our children for the future. They develop the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators and they know better than most that learning never stops. Even for themselves.
Dr Chris Blundell: Technology is viewed as being part of learning now and so schools are moving in that direction. It's valued as something that's essential.
Alison Quin: It's certainly an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander way of seeing the world where country is foundational.
Intro: This is the podcast for educators by educators.
Dr Lyndal O’Gorman: I think it's about communicating and understanding meaning, then that helps to step up our understanding of what art can do in education.
Dr Jennifer Alford: There could be 30 languages represented. Teachers don't need to feel that they need to speak all of those languages.
Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan: I think what are the key things is ensuring that students have an equal seat at the table.
Intro: This is QUT Podclass, and we look forward to diving into season two with you.
Madonna: What plays a role in success in the classroom? What challenges do teachers face and what new opportunities can they embrace? There are so many important topics to cover but today's episode is all about empowering student voices. So, how do you go about doing that? And what's the link between providing students with a voice and their wellbeing? Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan is a senior lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Education at QUT. Hi, Jenna.
Jenna: Hi Madonna.
Madonna: What an interesting area and time also to be researching children's rights. What was your journey to here?
Jenna: I think prior to getting into academia I was teaching in a school and one of the things that I was noticing was that there was really a lack of opportunity for students to be involved and sometimes a miscommunication between students and teachers in relation to what their needs were and how these could be best achieved.
Madonna: Give me an example.
Jenna: So a few examples that come to mind would be in relation to mediating potential conflicts between students and teachers in relation to behaviour management and ultimately students feeling as though their needs were not being met in the classroom and not knowing how to be able to express that in in another way.
Madonna: And did you find yourself making mistakes in a sense?
Jenna: Absolutely. I think every teacher makes mistakes. There's no perfect teacher and I think one of the things that all teachers could learn from this is being reflective on that and that's where you know, your reflective practitioner inquiry comes into it as well and thinking about being vulnerable and learning from our mistakes and growing with the students as well.
Madonna: So do you think now children are consulted enough?
Jenna: I don't believe so and I think one of the issues that contributes to this is the traditional conception of education in terms of power within schools and who has and doesn't have power and I think this you know, stems back historically to the teacher sort of being at the front of the class is the all-knower and the students being the learners to acquire all this knowledge. And even though there are many different approaches to teaching practice – we have problem-based learning, inquiry approaches, that provide students a more participatory role, ultimately still there's a barrier in breaking down our construction and enactment of power.
Madonna: So today we're talking about students’ rights, giving them a voice, and how that can actually enhance their wellbeing. Jenna, what's the link between the rights of a child and hearing their voice?
Jenna: So the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines 54 articles of the rights of a child, enshrined within that are different principles commonly referred to as the Three Ps. So this involves protection, provision, and participation. Student voice relates to that participation principle.
Madonna: Is a child's wellbeing then enhanced by them having the rights or having a voice, being given a voice?
Jenna: There's definitely a correlation between an individual's sense, or experience of wellbeing and having their rights provided for them.
Madonna: Because they feel valued?
Jenna: In part, but also rights relate to more than just participation. It's also about the holistic development and cultivation of an individual in terms of their talents their views and perspectives ensuring that they can contribute and actively contribute to society.
Madonna: But then being heard, let's say in the classroom context, then shows that their view is being valued irrespective of if it ends up changing a decision. They're actually being heard.
Jenna: Absolutely, and so it is ultimately a sign of respect there and also ensuring that children are aware that their views and opinions do matter and that they also then matter as a person.
Madonna: So what should children be consulted on?
Jenna: Well, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child any matters that affect them.
Madonna: So give me an example.
Jenna: So in relation to education, education rights are often talked about in terms of rights in, to, and through education. So education rights involve more than just provision and access to education, but also involve the holistic development of the individual across cultivating their interests and talent.
Madonna: Let's take this into a school ground though. What are you saying, that they should determine when they go for lunch or when they do what subject, what do you think they should be consulted on in terms of a school?
Jenna: One of the misconceptions I guess with students’ participation and students’ voice is the view that students have the right to make decisions.
Jenna: And so this is where it's separated out. Students do have the right to be involved and contribute to matters that affect them and so in the school environment that does relate to everything from curriculum to policy to uniform to -
Madonna: so they should get a say but they shouldn't actually be the decision maker is what you're saying.
Jenna: It's not necessarily that they shouldn't be the decision maker, but the right to have input doesn't equate to the right to make the decision.
Madonna: So what perspective might they bring that would otherwise be ignored.
Jenna: So ultimately everybody looks at things in different ways and students have unique insight that may be different or add a different perspective to what we as adults might see or consider. Particularly in relation to what matters most or what the key areas of concern are. Teachers acting in the best interest of students may have an idea about what they think these key issues are, but from the students’ perspective this may actually diverge.
Madonna: So do you think many schools really value or even entrench the right of a student to have a voice in decision making?
Jenna: I don't think it's necessarily a lack of willingness. I think in some cases it's a lack of readiness about what it might actually look like and how it might be embedded throughout the daily school life and daily school culture.
Madonna: But isn't this the student council or you talking about something more than that?
Jenna: I'm talking about something more than a student council. One of the issues to do with student councils is that they can sometimes be somewhat tokenistic. And also often we find in student councils that it's those same children that always or often have opportunities to have a say and be consulted about things that are involved. So it marginalises the voices and the views and perspectives of those who fit outside that group of students who have leadership potential.
Madonna: So do all children want to have a voice do you think?
Jenna: Not necessarily but that's also part of the enactment of that right to be involved is the right for them to say no, the right for them to stay silent.
Madonna: So how does a teacher then manage a loud view, as opposed to a perhaps a shy child who may have a view but who doesn't want to provide it.
Jenna: It's about respecting what, actually first of all I think it's about creating that space and openness in communication and the relationships with the students so that they know that the teacher or the school are genuinely wanting their input and involvement in these decisions. And once that space is created then providing multiple opportunities for students to express their voice and be involved and that might also involve sometimes them choosing not to be involved or choosing to remain silent, which is also a valid expression of voice. Voice also relates to the culture of the school about the student’s cultures, backgrounds, so not just the literal expression of verbal or written voice, but also, nonverbal communication and ultimately the holistic sense of an individual's participation in a context.
Madonna: This is QUT Podclass. I'm Madonna King and you're listening to Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan, Senior Lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Education at QUT. And Jenna, is there any link between having a voice and the wellbeing of a child?
Jenna: So ultimately wellbeing can't really be achieved if an individual's rights are compromised and if we think about rights in a very broad sense in terms of them involving, at the very least four general principles, and one of those general principles relates to the right to participation and respect for the views of the child; which kind of underpin every single right that is afforded to children.
Madonna: So how does a giving a voice actually improve their wellbeing; draw that link for me?
Jenna: So one of the ways is about finding out what matters to students and what the concerns for students are. So ultimately if we think about some of the things that could detract from an individual's wellbeing and looking at some of those inhibitors, getting students’ contribution and perspectives on those thing.
Madonna: Give me a topic, give me an example.
Jenna: So one of the things that seems to come up a fair bit is to do with interpersonal relationships and friendships, so that social aspect of the school experience and specifically often around bullying or anti-social interactions in that way. So while schools might have anti-bullying policies in place, they might have practices and consequences involved, these might not actually be meeting the needs of the students involved, yet there might be a gap between what the students need and what the school is providing.
Madonna: So what you're saying is, the students, should be, are a stakeholder and should be engaged in developing those bullying policies, for example?
Jenna: Absolutely. And so I think one of the key things to think about in relation to student voice in schools is about ensuring that students have an equal seat at the table.
Madonna: Now this isn't being done or if it's being done it's not being done in a widespread sort of way. Is that historical or do we fear perhaps anarchy inside the school grounds or why isn't it happening?
Jenna: So I think there are a variety of reasons, we touched on it a little bit earlier as well to just to do with the traditional structure of the school environment, but also teachers have a lot of - teachers and schools have a lot of things that they need to kind of cram into a day and so often things such as student participation and student involvement are sort of seen as the fluffy things or the add-ons. And so when it's thought about things that can go, at the expense of other things that may be considered slightly more integral in the moment such as, preparing for tests or examinations, it's often those participatory aspects that are shelved, whether they're temporary or permanent, which then devalues their importance in that context.
Madonna: You actually did your PhD correct me if I'm wrong, on how 8 to 12 year olds see and define wellbeing. What was that the take out there, the headline?
Jenna: So I think there are two main aspects there and one is to do with their conceptualisations themselves. So overall their conceptualisations were very similar to how adults conceptualise wellbeing and five themes dominated in relation to the social aspects. So relational aspects as we talked about briefly earlier, psychological aspects to do with the self, the physical aspects to do with health, and I think these things are quite common because these are the aspects of wellbeing that are typically focused on in school contexts through programs such as healthy eating programs or interpersonal skills, social emotional learning. They also talked about economic aspects of wellbeing. So personal responsibilities, financial obligations, and the future prospects to do with work and jobs and also about how different experiences contribute to their wellbeing. The other aspect I think which is key in this discussion is also thinking about the processes that they undertook in coming to these conceptualisations and some of the key implications or learnings that can be transferred from this into everyday practice and also into schools is in relation to providing time. So wellbeing is a very complex concept and one of the things in the literature is that it is difficult to define and there is no consensus as to what it actually means.
Madonna: Well I wonder if it's changed over time, what a child or even in adults or as wellbeing 10 years ago is very different to how a child might think about it now.
Jenna: I think one of the things to do with wellbeing is that it's a term that's so popularly used to encompass everything that it's kind of lost all of its meaning. So there's consensus in that it consists of probably five main elements of physical aspects, social or relational aspects, psychological, cognitive and environmental or economic aspects, but beyond that there's a bit of fluffiness about what else it involves.
Madonna: There was a second piece of research where you worked with students to find out what children's rights are; I think these were secondary students, years 7 to 9. What is a child's understanding of their rights now?
Jenna: Children tend to have somewhat limited understanding of their rights, beyond when rights are actually breached. So we have some very common examples that are showcased in media or internationally.
Madonna: Like what?
Jenna: So if we think in the very basic sense in terms of an individual's right to education. There's many examples internationally of where children are denied access to education. We think of recent media around refugees and refugee children and their access to education, you think about war-torn countries as well and the limits on rights for children that are applied. These international examples are things that Australian children are aware of, except sometimes and not necessarily translated across to their own experiences. So then when they are introduced to this whole concept of children having rights that personalisation of - what do these rights actually mean for me and what do they look like in my context - can be not just confronting but also very eye-opening in terms of not realising the rights that are there to protect them.
Madonna: Let's bring in Mitch Robertson here, Wellbeing Coordinator and high school teacher from Marsden State High. Hi Mitch.
Mitch: Hi, Madonna.
Madonna: How do you see children viewing their rights?
Mitch: Yeah. That's an interesting one. I think sometimes the students really aren't aware of what their rights are unless it has been breached.
Mitch: So they're very vocal when their rights have been breached, but I'm not sure they really have an understanding of anything outside of that.
Madonna: And your point is there’s value in flipping that.
Madonna: Do you see a concern as a teacher that the voice of some children drown out the voice of others.
Mitch: Yeah. I think that's typical of any educational setting or any setting in society really that that loud voice is the one that gets heard the most and sometimes it's not the most valuable voice to be listening to.
Madonna: So as a teacher how do you handle that?
Mitch: I guess it's about having different opportunities for students to give voice throughout a lesson or throughout the year; when you're taking into consideration changes that a school might make.
Madonna: All right. So we're saying changes our school might make; can we go back to areas where you think they should be consulted - should it extend to uniforms? What's available at the tuck shop? What should be on or off the table when it comes to a student's voice?
Mitch: I think everything should be on the table. If we think about the school as a business, we go in and ask them what they think and feel and what they need.
Madonna: That's an interesting way of painting it. So the students, the client, they’re at the centre of the decision-making. Is it natural that some teachers might be fearful of giving voice to too many students in case it becomes too rowdy or unsustainable?
Mitch: Yeah, I think that is definitely a hesitation teachers may have and its definitely a hesitation I've had and seen in my school. But I think the more opportunities you give to students and the more you value and show that you respect their voice, the better they are at giving their opinions and thoughts and feelings on issues that matter to them.
Madonna: I'm asking you for a gross generalisation. But is there a type of teacher more open to allowing a voice to be heard? English, because they're used to debating and public speaking, or a 22-year-old teacher because times have changed or…?
Mitch: Yeah, that's a really interesting question. And I'm not really sure I have a definite answer for it. I think it is just about a teacher being vulnerable enough to be open to asking the question and being brave enough and prepared enough for some confronting voices to be heard.
Madonna: That's a really interesting answer, because you're saying teachers need to be confident enough to hear something that they might not want to hear.
Mitch: Yeah. That's right. And I think for me it's been a long time since I was a student, but I can recognise and acknowledge that times have definitely changed from when I was in the classroom as a student to as I am as a teacher. And those today, perhaps, they don't understand what it is like for those students sitting in front of them and so not aware of their thoughts, feelings and opinions around what is happening to them in the classroom.
Madonna: What about you, has a child given voice to an opinion that's been hard for you to listen to or to accept, and as a teacher how do you then deal with that?
Mitch: Yeah, it definitely is, I guess in the early days of my teaching you ask for feedback at the end of a lesson. Particularly I guess -
Madonna: Do we really expect it?
Mitch: Yeah, and that's the thing I, guess in your early career when you're at university and doing your placements sometimes an expectation to get that feedback from students just for your own reflective practices. And then we want to continue that and it is at the time, easier to take that on board because you realise that you're still growing and developing and finding your own teaching style. But I think then it's those couple of years later when you think that you've got it right and students do give some feedback, whether you've asked for it or not. And that at that point it can be quite confronting because you think that you've got it figured out. For me, I'm always on that kind of personal growth journey, that I know that I'm never ever going to have got it right in the classroom and open to learning and changing. So for me, it's easier to listen to that feedback.
Madonna: But it's difficult for a school because you're never going to meet everyone's expectations. Let's take the example of a change to uniforms or even the menu on the tuck shop. If there is a vote, if the voice of students is heard, there's not going to be a uniformity of opinion. How does a school classroom teacher or a school, then deal with perhaps the 30 or 40% of people, of students, who voted for the contrary?
Mitch: Yeah. I think the more you go into a school and continue to get the voice along the way when those decisions are being made and getting the thoughts and opinions from students initially around those issues. Going back and consulting with, I guess the staff and the leadership within the school, but then presenting those ideas back to the students for some more feedback, before final decisions are made. I think you can lessen those people who I guess, who don't have their needs met.
Madonna: Two important stages there, is to consult right from the beginning and to provide feedback and communication through the process.
Mitch: Yeah. I think that's really important. And another key part of it is being transparent with what's going on behind the scenes. I think one thing that I've definitely learnt in terms of my journey with using student voice; is that it's not enough just to ask for those thoughts and opinions and then leave it at that. The students need to know that their input has been listened to, has been valued and even if things aren't happening immediately, they need to know that it's been working on behind the scenes. Otherwise, they feel like it hasn't been listen to.
Madonna: What are some of the important things, issues, that you've seen students really want to have a voice on?
Mitch: It can range from a wide variety of things, like just anything that impacts them in the school.
Madonna: Give me some examples.
Mitch: From where they sit at lunch times, to how they want the toilets to look, to the assessment policy and when they can get assessment and how many assessments, at a particular time.
Madonna: And have you seen the flexibility and the changes as a result of listening to students, seen a better system develop?
Mitch: Yeah. I know personally with my involvement in QUT’s Wellbeing Matters project, that I'm now seen within the school as someone students can go to to give their voice and know that if they, if they pass on any feedback to me, that I'm going to make it my mission to ensure that it has been heard and heard by the right people to hopefully influence and inform changes within the school.
Madonna: You mentioned a joint project with QUT. This was the Wellbeing Matters project and it was essentially to gauge the wellbeing temperature of the school. Is that right?
Mitch: Yeah, that's correct.
Madonna: You played a student advocate in staff groups, and then you played a staff member in student groups. Just walk us through what you learnt doing that.
Mitch: It was, it was definitely a great experience for myself in terms of my own personal growth as a leader in the classroom with students, but also a leader within the school with staff as well. So essentially I was working alongside the students during the inquiry phase where they had their own action research projects and helping facilitate them undertaking their own investigations within the school and then alongside that, working with the staff working party who sifted through the range of data that we had received from QUT around, as you pointed out, the temperature of wellbeing within the school and it was during those meetings that at times I had to advocate for that student voice that was missing in those meetings and sometimes play Devil's Advocate and say well did you think about where the students - why the student is saying this? Where they're coming from in this situation.
Madonna: And what was the reaction of your colleagues?
Mitch: Initially, there was definitely some strange looks as to why you’re standing up for the students here, but I think it's really important because like I mentioned earlier, it has been a very long time since a lot of us have been in the classroom as students. We don't know how they are feeling.
Madonna: Let's bring Jenna back in here. Jenna do students know how to give their opinion in a respectful way when you do give them a seat at the table.
Jenna: I think the opportunity to have a say whether it's for adults and or children in context where they don't usually have a seat at the table can be something that has a bit of a learning curve. So even if we think about being staff members or teachers and having a seat at a leadership table, there's a bit of negotiation and navigation about our involvement in there and how we can get that entry point and ensure that our views are taken seriously and respected. And so I don't think it's any different whether it's for students or for staff. I think that in relation to finding the voice or students finding their voice, particularly those in the secondary context, they've been through at least eight years, if not more of a schooling system where their opportunities for voice may have been limited. And so being used to cultures that don't provide these opportunities as readily or if these opportunities are provided they may be tokenistic or very limited; there can be a little bit of brokering in relation to the trust.
Madonna: When then should you start to provide a student with a voice? Is this in prep? And you build that voice as you go?
Jenna: I think right from the outset, even if we think of early childhood context, children have voice in this these contacts if we think about you know, various activities and that the choice of free play and that direction. Yet somehow when we enter formal schooling contexts in Queensland, you know in prep all of a sudden things change from a lot of free choice in those early childhood centres through now to a lot more structure and less individual choice and ability to be able to be more flexible in those environments.
Madonna: What would you say Jenna, to teachers listening about the value of committing to hearing students’ views?
Jenna: I would echo what Mitch has said earlier about be prepared that some of it might be confronting and there might be things that are a bit hard to hear. Ultimately everybody, whether its students or teachers, are there to try and get the most out of the experience. So teachers are there to help support students and students want to have a positive educational experience.
Madonna: What kind of by in, does it need, in your view Jenna, to the leadership of the school, can a classroom teacher do this independently of a school-wide decision. Do you think?
Jenna: I think at the classroom level there are definitely practices that individual teachers can do, but ultimately if there is to be genuineness and authenticity in the seeking and enactment of student voice in those contexts you do need leadership support. And this relates to the ability for student voices to result in influence and by that, it is ensuring that what students express is listened to and received by an audience that has the power to do something with it.
Madonna: It's a big step for some schools perhaps though too because it wasn't that many years ago that we were saying children should be seen and not heard.
Jenna: Yes, and I think that relates to that whole re-conceptualisation about how we think about students and teacher’s roles in education and ultimately that is about power and shifting that conception of power in the education context.
Madonna: And I suspect the correlation between providing a voice in the wellbeing of a student. To you Mitch, in the school ground have you seen that we're providing the voice to students has led specifically to stronger wellbeing temperatures if you like.
Mitch: Yeah, I guess even in my own involvement with those students who were directly involved in the inquiry group, I can definitely see an increased sense of their own wellbeing, their own confidence, themselves, in the way that they hold themselves in the classroom, as individuals, but then as a collective group amongst their peers.
Madonna: What are some of the most interesting ways a teacher can give voice to a student.
Mitch: I think again, it can be around anything in the classroom from the very start of a school year, having input in what are our class expectations, let's think about this together. We're going to spend a whole year together. We all want to get along. We all want to have a positive interaction throughout the entire year, something as simple as having input in those class expectations from the get go, throughout the year. Things like if you're an English teacher, what is the novel we're studying, for me as a PE teacher, I'm always getting input from the sports that they want to play, but even within that partway through a lesson, we'll stop and we'll have a chat around how can we make this game better? Give me two things that you'll keep, one thing that you want to change and giving them that input into some rules that we change to make the game more fun, more enjoyable, safer or increase participation.
Madonna: Yeah, increase participation, increase buy in too, yeah. Jenna, did you tell me about the school that wanted to look at truancy, so actually sought the advice of the biggest truants?
Jenna: I was having a conversation with a colleague recently and they were sharing some experiences that they'd had in relation to student voice and it was exactly that and it goes to breaking down some of those conceptions about which students in the school environment have the loudest voice or should have the loudest voice and looking at opportunities for all students to be able to contribute. In relation to this particular example the school wanted to find out more and reduce truancy and so they had some of the highest truants, I guess, at the school lead an inquiry investigation into the what, when, where, how, why into truanting. And so this gave those students A) a leadership opportunity but also showed the students that the school did care about them and their experience and so in relation to building those relationships between students and staff those opportunities for student voice to contribute to school change can be really integral.
Madonna: Is there a curriculum angle here or does the curriculum anywhere specifically give voice to students?
Jenna: So I think in terms of student voice and linking into the curriculum, there are definitely curricular priorities that can link in there as well as your 21st century skills. It also links to the provision of an inclusive education for students and ensuring that they're active and informed individuals, as well as contributing to an individual's ability to be able to be an active citizen in the communities in which they're participating.
Madonna: What resources exist for schools and teachers interested in actually doing what we're talking about Jenna?
Jenna: I think one of the key things to remember there is that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to student voice in schools. Even though there are lots of resources and examples available, if schools or individual teachers are relying on these to kind of cookie cutter fit to their context, ultimately it probably won't work. So I think it's about you know, as Mitch said earlier, being open to that professional learning and being open to I wouldn't call it experimentation, but trying things out and being prepared to revisit things and for some things not to work. When these things don't work, don't just throw them out, look at ways that things can work in your context a little better.
Madonna: So a school leader’s listening and wants to introduce this way. Where do they start and how would they grow it strategically?
Jenna: To be honest, I would start with the students. I would have the school leadership work with the students directly. As I mentioned earlier, this time aspect, is a key thing not just in relation to providing the time in relation to the space to have voice, but also thinking about how we form and conceptualise our own views about things. And as adults, quite often we need a bit of time to think about and process and digest the things that we have been told or the things that we've been asked our opinions on. I think with any form of consultation, whether it's with staff or students, it's about allowing time to be able to introduce the topics or the subjects or introduced this idea of embedding student voice and voice inclusive cultures throughout the school. And having that continual opportunity to go back and forth with the students, for them to be able to form and conceptualise and communicate their views in multiple platforms.
Madonna: Mitch, a teacher comes to you and says look, I want to listen more to the voice of my students. Where would you suggest they start?
Mitch: If you want to do voice really well, it is laying some groundwork with the students and I guess other staff as well because students for so long haven't had a seat at the table to give their voice and they are so passionate about so many things particularly within the school, that do directly impact them. It's about I guess building their capacity to give their feedback and opinion in a respectful way and in in a correct manner and time. So I guess that's where I would start.
Madonna: As a teacher, what advice would you give for a child trying to find their voice at school?
Mitch: I guess it's a matter of finding your tribe I guess. If you are a little reluctant or hesitant to give your voice, surrounding yourself with like-minded people, finding a teacher who you know is going to be supportive of your voice no matter what and who will nurture and foster those thoughts and feelings and opinions that that student has. To then kind of push them into avenues where their voice can continue to grow in a small arena to then a bigger platform. And I saw that happen so beautifully in our Wellbeing Matters project. Some students to begin with sat on the sidelines and just listened and I guess sometimes I'm a little bit like that. I like to process things, and this comes back to what Jenna said, about having that time to think about things, so not to give up on that silent kid, who's not having their voice heard, but allow them the opportunities for that voice to grow and become louder through opportunities and trials.
Madonna: And confidence, I guess hearing other people speak and knowing that they can do that too.
Mitch: And I think, that was one of the beautiful things about the project as well. Some of those students perhaps were a little bit reluctant or hesitant to give their voice, perhaps their past experiences were they gave their opinion and it wasn't heard or it was kind of diminished and they didn't want to open up anymore. But it was great to see that some of those more silent students by the end of the project had such loud voices and very considered voices. And I guess that came through seeing other people have their voice heard and acknowledged and respected and what they were saying influence things that were happening within the school.
Madonna: Do you think the student voice is best enacted at the classroom or the school level or does it matter?
Mitch: I don't think it really matters. I think the more opportunities you give for students to have their voice heard, the better they are going to get at it. So from all aspects of the school. I think it's really important to give them those opportunities.
Madonna: Jenna, of all the research you've done, what's the most important thing you think for a teacher to know?
Jenna: I think the most important thing for teachers and schools to think about is that it shouldn't take for students to reach breaking point before their voices are heard or listen to. So if we think back to some of the examples that were talked about earlier, these examples are often seen as special or unique because these students have reached breaking point, where they see that there's you know, no other option other than to kind of stand up and make sure that their voices are heard. And if we can try and listen at the very start and provide those opportunities and spaces and places for students to not get to that breaking point, then I think that ultimately education as a whole as well as you know cultivating individual relationships and student experience etc. is ultimately going to benefit from that.
Madonna: What kind of rules do you think should exist around the provision of voice? For example, we've talked about delivering opinions in a respectful way, you know, what kind of framework does a school leadership need to consider?
Jenna: I think ultimately again, this is something that needs to be spoken about with the students and also potentially involving parents and members of the community as well. The whole changing of cultures in schools does take time. But what I do think is important is about that openness to change and that receptiveness to go on the journey with the students.
Madonna: Can I come to a final question and ask you for three real tips, either for a school or for a teacher, who might want to enact what we've been talking about, providing voice to students and seeing that their wellbeing then grows as a result. Let's go to you first Mitch.
Mitch: Yeah, I think my first tip definitely is around that being prepared for that challenging or confronting feedback. So the second tip would also then tie in with that, is just to not give up if it doesn't work the first time, try something else. I guess we're in a world at the moment where, so many loud voices around so many very big issues are starting to pop up. And so we need to use that time to listen. So don't give up, continue to listen and find ways of working together to create actions that are going to be beneficial to all. And I guess my third tip would be around being transparent when dealing with students and their voices. So for example, if an action from student feedback isn't being immediately implemented but there's some work in the background, going back to the students to let them know - hey, we did listen to you here. This is going to take a little while. So this is what we're doing behind the scenes - and then going back to them before those decisions are made, so that feed-forward, feed backward. I guess it's all about a partnership.
Madonna: That's Mitch Robinson Wellbeing Coordinator at Marsden State High School. And Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan from QUT, your top three tips.
Jenna: I'd say one of my top tips would be, avoid tokenism in student consultation and involvement. So for example, some of the ways that schools sometimes involve students is in relation to things that have already been decided. So if you have a policy that's under review and the policy has been reviewed and all these changes have been made, sometimes these policies are then taken back to students for their input but ultimately little or no change will result from whatever their contributions are on that. So avoiding tokenism can also then can contribute to strengthening that cultivation of student voice culture throughout the school and demonstrating to students that their views and opinions are respected and taken seriously. I would also give a tip about rethinking the way we conceptualise power in the school and in educational environment. And I saw a visual representation recently which I think summarises it really nicely in that power shouldn't be like a remote control where one person holds it and decides who has it, when. Power also shouldn't be considered like a bucket full of water or liquid power where there's only a certain amount to go around. Instead, if we think about power like a candle and the more power that’s shared around the stronger, collectively, you all become and so as a school and as a school community, if we think about shifting conceptions of power in that way and how we can share it amongst staff and students and how powerful that can end up being in terms of the student experience, but also strengthening the school as a whole. I would also say a tip would be about the time factor and not just allowing time to think and process, but also allowing multiple opportunities and time for students’ voices to be expressed, ensuring that whatever is expressed is valued and taken seriously and has influence resulting from it.
Madonna: Jenna, thank you.
Jenna: Thanks Madonna.
Madonna: Mitch, thank you.
Mitch: Thank you Madonna.
Madonna: And this is QUT Podclass. And remember the more you learn the more they learn.
Madonna: Thanks for listening to this episode of Podclass. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. For a little homework, links to further information and insight on this topic, see the details provided in the show notes. Or to continue broadening your thinking in the classroom, listen in to the other season 2 episodes.
Outro: Podclass is an initiative of the QUT Faculty of Education. To take your teaching potential to the next level, explore their range of professional development and postgraduate study options on offer. Because the more you learn, the more they learn.