Creating a Culture to Support Student Voice & Choice

The word "choice" written on a chalkboard surrounded by letters.
(Image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

During my time as a district and school leader, I observed and conferenced with students entering high school, and only about a third of those reported feeling engaged with their education. I believe education should provide students with meaningful learning experiences in a classroom of engaged learners. 

One way to enhance student engagement is to allow for student voice. Students who feel their voices are heard are more likely to feel academically engaged and respected in the school community. In addition, students feel valued when they feel heard. Students learn for someone, not just from someone. Thus, feeling valued is essential in creating a safe culture for students to share their voice. 

Providing students with multiple options for an assignment helps them choose the content that is relevant, meaningful, and exciting to them. As a result, they are a part of their own learning process, rather than having to move through assignments that are not engaging.

Our discussion at the recent Tech & Learning regional leadership summit focused on ideas to launch and sustain opportunities for students to share their voices. Below are the main topics of our discussions and suggestions from educators in the field.

Teach Students How to Choose 

As educators, we must support students in gaining the skills to choose what works best for them to be successful. Give students practice in classroom problem-solving and decision-making. This will help them reflect on and make decisions about what they need.

Build In Time For Discovery 

It's challenging to develop an opinion on something when you're still trying to figure out what it is. Providing time for students to process and discuss with others will deepen their understanding of a topic and give them an opportunity to hear others' perspectives. 

Multiple Assessment Methods

Provide students the opportunity to express their voice in the most powerful way for them – art, poetry, video, a paper, or activity. Allowing this flexibility gives them more choices to demonstrate evidence in their learning and understanding.

Celebrate Backgrounds

Students have various backgrounds, experiences, and passions. Allowing students to give voice to a topic or culture they know and understand can help them make life connections and build familiarity.

Create a Risk-Taking Culture 

Reward risks and recognize those who share an opinion or position. Creating a classroom culture in which students are praised for taking risks and showing boldness can foster a more open and participatory learning atmosphere. It will also create curious learners who can formulate thorough examination, as well as listen to and engage in respectful discourse. In addition, oral arguments foster a stronger student voice and learning community. 

Develop Student Leaders

Engage in different forms of classroom roles and responsibilities. The most outspoken students do not always show leadership. Instead, kids can demonstrate leadership by teaching and mentoring others, through visual storytelling, or school/community volunteerism. 

Right Tools for The Job 

These were a few of the discussion points. Here is my presentation, which includes tools to enhance voice. Some tools we discussed for this were: 

Chatter Pix

In addition, there are links to the tools and examples the participants shared to support your journey into creating a classroom environment that empowers students. 

Students value a classroom or school culture in which they feel cared about. Something positive is going on when students want to spend time in a classroom after school or during lunch. Using the above strategies for instruction will show students their voice matters. Empowering student voice transforms a learner from being an observer to an initiator. 

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@ MatthewXJoseph) is Director of Evaluation and Supervision in Brockton, MA.