The Importance of Student Voice in                     Building School Culture

By Denine A. Goolsby, M.Ed.

Student voice is defined as students sharing their voices about what happens in their schools and classrooms.  It can span from small group conversations in the classroom to participating in school curriculum and practices.  Student engagement is paramount to the success of the school community.  When students contribute to the school culture, and their ideas are visibly included, they become more engaged and committed to learning.

Inclusion of student voice builds leadership skills by providing them the opportunity to make decisions that impact the school environment.  Listening to and acting on student preferences, interests and perspectives helps students focus on their own learning.  It can also guide students as they identify their passions and what they may want to do in the future.  Once passions have been identified, targets for success can be achieved.

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The research reflects that students who believe that they have voice in a school are seven times more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not believe they have a choice (Quaglia Institute of Student Voice and Aspirations, 2016).  In another study, it was determined that the more students can contribute ideas about choice, have opportunities for collaboration, and challenge, the more their levels of motivation and engagement will increase (Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012). Through engagement, giving students voice can help build relationships between students and teachers.  This relationship building and connection between the two groups can result in increased student achievement. (Education Week, Evie Blad, 2022)

The inclusion of student voice can include formal and informal methods. Some formal approaches can involve students in decision making of school systems, leadership routines and practices.  Student groups such as Student Council and/or Student Advisory are examples of these types of groups.  Informally, students can submit responses through surveys that can be used to identify the student experience in the school community.

It is critical that voice is included in the classrooms as a part of the daily routines.  Students can be an active part of establishing the routines and practices in the class.  Students can also be given the opportunity to choose the modalities for class assignments and participate in assignments that require collaboration and team building.  Students can develop strong engagement skills when they are asked to lead a student led conference for their parents/guardians.

Students can contribute to influencing the cultural aesthetic of the school.  They can work with building staff to ensure that the diversity of the school and society are visible and appreciated in the community.  Opportunities to share traditions and interests can build an appreciation for the things that make us unique.  It is the development of this appreciation that can strengthen empathy and compassion for others.

Today’s students live in a very fast-moving world.  With the availability of everything in the palm of their hands through electronic devices, they are intimately aware of the world around them.  They have developed a varying level of sophistication with the facts that we as adults will miss if we don’t enter their world.  The absence of their voices may be the missing piece in building a culture that is respectful of all.  Why not try it?

Denine A. Goolsby M. Ed. has served as an educator in a variety of positions including teacher, principal (Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District) and Executive Director of Social and Emotional Learning and Closing the Achievement Gap at Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Ms. Goolsby is a Board Member of CREATE, and serves as an SEL consultant.

CREATE provides professional development for teachers and leaders in how to nurture student voice.


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