At Assembly last week, I commented on my disappointment with the finale to ‘Game of Thrones’. In what has been an incredible series, it sadly didn’t live up to my expectations of a grand conclusion to the epic tale. Nonetheless, I thought there was one interesting moment that highlighted an important message regarding the significance of the voice of the people in decision making, collaboration and leadership. It was when the most powerful people of Westeros came together and needed to make a decision on who should be the next King or Queen. Samwell Tally sheepish stepped up to the mark to make the following recommendation:
“Why just us? We represent the great houses but whoever we choose won’t just rule over the lords and ladies. Maybe the decision on what’s best for everyone should be left to … well … everyone?”
The response was initially greeted with silence followed by enormous laughter from the great houses. Then a few of the lords made the following remarks:
“Maybe we should give the dogs a vote as well?” and “I’ll ask my horse!”
Clearly the ideals of parliamentary democracy never had a chance of succeeding in the world of ‘Game of Thrones’.
However, this passage did make me think about where School’s position themselves in providing students with agency and a voice to make a difference and contribution within their educational context. It’s certainly changing, however for too long Schools have had the view that it was illogical to think that students should have a voice in the direction, learning and general operation of a School environment.
Let’s face it, students spend a lot of time at school. After the family, school has the most significant influence on child development, so making students’ time at school enjoyable and worthwhile supports their learning and wellbeing. In supporting these outcomes, we need to support students to be active contributors to their own learning. The sense of belonging, positive relationships and improved self-esteem achieved when children are active contributors in their school community are significant protective factors that support their learning and wellbeing now and in the future.
There is no doubt listening to student voice is important, however the research highlights that the benefits for students don’t come from just hearing their own voices; it’s more about how other people (students, teachers, schools) respond to students’ voices and work with them to make ideas come to life. In other words, the opportunities for students to participate in shaping their experiences at school must be real rather than simulated.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the many conversations I have shared with our students in my first few months at Northholm and as we move closer to entering the next Strategic Planning process it’s an opportune time for me to set up ‘Student Consultation Meetings’ with each year group across the K-12 educational context in providing our students with the formal opportunity to contribute and share their insights on some of the following key areas:
LEARNING AND TEACHING
– How do you learn best?
– How well does Northholm both challenge and support individual growth?
– What are the personal characteristics of an effective teacher?
– What is the effectiveness of different teaching styles and approaches of effective teachers?
– What makes a positive student-teacher relationship?
– How well do peers work with each other in the learning experience?
CONTINUOUS SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT
– What do you enjoy most about the school?
– What do you like least about the school?
– What can we do to improve the learning experience of our students?
The process not only has a beneficial impact for our students but it also allows our teachers to appreciate the value and impact of their professional practice in improving student outcomes.
Student voice is aligned with ownership of learning in the classroom and advocacy aligns with improving the school culture. Learners should be in a position to advocate for ideas, strategies, resources, and other elements that will help them succeed. This is not a new concept in any sense but one Northholm is committed to developing throughout Term TWO.
One key development in our approach to student academic development has been our focus on formative assessment. Formative assessment is one area that can help students to grow in confidence as they reflect on their progress. Formative assessments do not hold the same high stakes as summative assessment pieces, freeing students to focus on growth rather than grades. Teachers provide opportunities to develop agency through self-reflection as well as peer reflection. Students who develop this agency early are at an advantage over students who do not.
We want our students to share in the collaboration process as an important influential force in the education provided at Northholm Grammar School. I’m looking forward to the rich conversations with our students on a formal level as we continue to drive continuous improvement and individual growth within our context.