Diversity strengthens student voice

Student voice is about more than students having a say; it’s about adopting a culture of inclusiveness. So, whose responsibility is it to ensure that all students are being represented in decision-making? VicSRC Project Officer, Nina Laitala, and Warringa Park Special School teacher and VicSRC volunteer, Tyler Kenopic, dive in.

Diversity

One of the top issues voiced by students through VicSRC events this year is diversity in schools.

Diversity in student voice does not simply stop at who is representing the student leadership group; this is merely a necessary component of a bigger picture. Diversity should include hearing the voices of students from different cultures or languages, students with different abilities, LGBTQI students, students disengaged with school and students who live in different family situations. In other words, ensuring that effective opportunities are available for the wide variety of perspectives in a school environment.

So, whose responsibility is it to ensure that all students are being represented in decision-making?

The answer? It is a collective responsibility of students, teaching staff  and support organisations like VicSRC.

During VicSRC Teach the Teacher workshops, we try to emphasise to the student leaders, the importance of hearing the voices of the widest cross selection of their student body as possible. This could suggest actively seeking out those students who aren’t engaged already. While not all students choose to be involved in student voice, all students should be offered the opportunity in a way that is most accessible for them.

Teachers need to ensure they are enabling student voice among all students. In some cases, this may mean differentiating information so that all students understand their right to have a say in their education.

Principals are responsible for creating and maintaining a school culture that respects and celebrates difference and diversity beyond tokenistic displays.

For those of us who work alongside schools have a responsibility also. At VicSRC, we consistently consider and develop the accessibility of our programs, events and resources for the growing and changing diversity of student needs. In particular, we are investigating how to make our Teach the Teacher program more adaptable to meet the needs of the students we are seeing day to day.

For students and schools who embrace student voice, representation and action - Teach the Teacher helps to take student voice to the next step. It provides an organised structure for students and teachers to work collaboratively to solve problems with students leading the process.

While this process of development is ongoing at VicSRC, a number of strategies we are considering may work in other student voice platforms and programs to ensure diverse representation.

  1. Laying the foundations:
    Clear introduction, objectives and expectations for students, teachers and school in general.

  2. Flexible delivery:
    Resources that are accessible for students with disabilities, EAL students and younger students (Early years, Primary and Secondary level students)
    Creative workshop delivery that includes active movement, opportunities to collaborate, majority student led, space to allow for reflection and consideration.

  3. Follow up and support:
    Connecting with other schools/students to act as mentors, extra visits to schools to support students, providing ongoing advice to teachers so help them support students in their journey, sharing resources, case studies with students, teachers and principals to keep the momentum going.

Student voice is about more than students having a say in their education, it’s about adopting a culture of inclusiveness where all members of the community are heard, respected and appreciated for who they are. 

Anecdotal evidence from VicSRC case studies demonstrate that schools that are committed to student voice, experience less documented incidents of bullying and report improved levels of well being among students.

In this global community where technology allows us to absorb an enormous amount of information each day, it is crucial that young people can filter important information and make informed decisions. If young people are encouraged and supported to start making decisions from an early age about issues important to them, they will develop skills that will assist them in many areas of their lives.

Students are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today. What kind of leaders can we help them be?


Interested in Teach the Teacher? Find out more and flip the script.

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