Every Voice Counts

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Greg Whitby is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

The purpose of democratic elections is to enable citizens to have their say in determining how the nation is governed. As we’re always told in the lead up to elections – every vote counts. Unfortunately the process of schooling has been a bit less democratic; not every voice has always counted.

Originally schools were designed with adults in mind so the focus has always been on the teacher as the authority when it comes to learning. Students were largely viewed as empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge so a good classroom was always a quiet one. Unfortunately within many school settings, there is still the view that students should be seen and not heard. It’s ironic because students make up the largest population within a school community.

Over the last decade, we’ve come to realise that student voice is a very important component of learning. Listening and responding to students’ experiences not only develops trust within the classroom but it provides teachers with powerful feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching practice and strategies. When students are active participants in the learning process and have good relationships with teachers, they feel more motivated and empowered to learn. Other sectors like healthcare realised long ago that feedback from patients was critical to ensure that they were providing the quality of service that their customers expected.

In my experience, when students are given regular opportunities to contribute to the conversations on learning and teaching, they take the role very seriously and provide constructive feedback for teachers. Seeking student feedback not only demonstrates a school’s commitment towards improving student learning but when students give feedback it demonstrates the level of respect students have for teachers and the profession.

Last year, we extended the concept of student voice by inviting senior students to be part of the interview panels for principals of our new schools. The feedback from students and their school communities was extremely positive. Experiences such as these not only build students’ self-confidence but it represents a new ideal for schooling in which students and teachers are working together as partners towards a common goal.

Just as the best nations are those that allow all people to be heard, the best schools are the ones that ensure students get a voice in all aspects of learning and teaching.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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