In a typical school day, how many meaningful decisions about their role and learning do students get to make? Too often, the answer is “not many.” The educational system and teachers decide what students need to learn, when and how they will learn it, and how long it will take. Standardized tests determine whether they learned it. So it’s not unreasonable to ask: If students believe administrators and teachers hold all the power, why should they put in any effort in school? Does it really matter what they think and what’s important to them? If they don’t have any say, why speak up or step out?
Those are difficult, challenging and sometimes controversial questions. However, if the goal is for students to become self-motivated, responsible learners, a key strategy is to give them more voice and choice — more power — in their classrooms and schools. When students believe that what they think and say really matters, it unlocks their commitment to and potential for learning and for investing themselves in the school community. On the other hand, when teachers and administrators make all the decisions, students can become less motivated to learn and they become more passive and dependent on educators for their learning. That makes it harder for everyone.
As citizens go to the polls to select local, state and national leaders, it is fitting to ask about whether, how, and when students do, or should, have a voice in their schools and classrooms. In the process, we offer practical ways teachers and other educators can create opportunities can have more of a voice in their classrooms and schools. It can be challenging to shift and share power. But when it occurs, it likely has tremendous benefits for student engagement and learning. It also enhances student-teacher relationships, which benefits everyone. It means shifting from an emphasis on “teaching” to “learning.” It means that teachers and other adults in the school sometimes need to stand aside (or, more often, stand beside) so students can take the lead, learn and grow. And when it doesn’t work out well, teachers and other adults help students learn and grow through the setbacks.
Click the below image to download a guide with research, tips, and activities to help give students a voice in the classroom: