Giving students greater voice

By Greg Whitby, 8 May 2019
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We have more choice today than ever before – from the food on offer in supermarkets to nominating the time we get packages delivered to our door. Yet one of the few institutions that has not given people greater choice is schools. While students are given some options with elective subjects as they move up year groups, the majority of the school day is still very much controlled by outdated processes and structures.

A leading educational expert has said that the greatest challenge for schools after providing safe learning environments and having a solid understanding of learning was getting adults to release some of their ‘control’ over learners. I understand how challenging this idea is especially when schools have largely determined when and where learning happens and with whom. What if we could conceive of a new model of schooling that gave students the opportunity to choose the teacher that best suited them.

Research has long shown that the relationship a student has with their teacher is an important factor not only in terms of their well-being but in also with improving their long-term educational outcomes. After many years, we still recall our favourite teacher even if we can’t remember what we learnt. A positive student-teacher relationship is the basis of positive learning experiences. I acknowledge that giving students some choice in working with a teacher that will help them best has big practical challenges, but we need to start thinking differently about this.

Teaching is a meeting of minds and hearts. Even the youngest students instinctively know how their teachers make them feel. The ‘feeling’ factor is usually overlooked in favour of ensuring the timetable runs smoothly or class numbers are evenly distributed. Yet, given the importance of well-being, it might be time for students to have a voice in whom they learn.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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