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Cultivating student voice

When students have voice, they are seven times more likely to be motivated to learn and four times more likely to experience self-worth in school, according to data presented by Russell Quaglia, education researcher and author. These students are also eight times more likely to experience engagement, and nine times more likely to experience purpose in school.

 “If kids have a voice, they'll have greater self-worth,” said Quaglia. “They’ll be more engaged in their learning. They’ll have a sense of purpose and that leads to academic achievement.”

Quaglia shared these findings during his Saturday morning session “Can You Hear Us Now? You Should” at ASCD Empower17. The one-hour session offered lessons for schools aiming to cultivate student voice.

Share concerns, create solutions and take action. “Student voice is not just about being vocal,” Quaglia said. It means sharing ideas and issues in a safe environment, presenting solutions that address those issues, and accepting responsibility to take action. When working with students to foster voice, make sure they know they must participate in the process. “Share your ideas and know that I care,” he said. “But also know that I want to hear your solution. Don’t put it on me. What are you going to do about it?”

Let them hear their voice through you. When you are speaking to students, you will have more power around your voice when they hear their voices coming through you, Quaglia said. He cited the recent election of President Donald Trump. “The reason he is president is because there were so many people who heard their voice through him. He listened, he learned and he led.”

Listening is the key, he said. Listening lets us create connections with our students and community. “The power of voice is to listen, to learn and to lead with your voice in a way other people can relate to.”

Seek out the quiet or silent ones. Some students -- or teachers -- will not come to you with their insights. You must be proactive in seeking them out. “An ‘open door’ policy is meaningless if no one is walking through it,” Quaglia said. “Go out as much as you expect people to come in. [We] must listen to the voices that we can’t hear. The ones not so obvious to us.”

Don't let student voice exist in isolation. Schools that have positive student voice also have positive teacher voice. The environment of the school provides both parties with a strong sense of self-worth, purpose, and belonging. They feel accomplished. They are curiously creative and have a spirit of adventure. They accept leadership and responsibility and have the confidence to take action.

If teachers do not have voice, they will not be able to promote the voice of their students. When it comes to student voice, it cannot exist in isolation. “You can’t look at student voice as an isolate because it’s not,” Quaglia said.

Foster student voice -- not student noise. Student voice is productive. It is focused and inquisitive. It acknowledges that ideas are stronger in partnership than isolation and that students have much to learn from adults. It encourages personal reflection and accepts responsibility.

Student noise, on the other hand, is toxic, Quaglia said. It is negative, demanding and disorganized. It thrives on complaining and whining. It regards the opinions of peers and adults as unimportant and insists that “everyone else needs to change.” Students do not have a voice when they exhibit a “noisy” attitude. It happens when they say, “I need to change. I need to think of this stuff differently.”

Don’t move until you’re ready. Before moving forward with student voice, consider the potential concerns and shortfalls, Quaglia advised. Do this early on. Do not wait until the initiative is underway, and know you might hear something you don’t want to hear. And be ready to take action. “Don’t do student voice unless you’re ready to do student voice,” Quaglia said. “Think through these questions before you jump in, even with one foot.”

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor for SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.

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