What have we learned from Student Voice?

What is Student Voice?
The phrase Student Voice is used with increasing frequency in education. It means different things to different people and has had different purposes. Pembina Hills Public Schools is also involved in Student Voice activities.

For the past 5 years Assistant Superintendent Mark Thiesen has met with groups of students at our community schools, asking them what they think is needed to provide a purposeful learning environment. Last year we tried something new, bringing together about 160 students for a single event — Student Engagement Day. This year we experimented with a polling process to add data into the discussions. Through each of the processes our intent was the same — we wanted to know what advice students had for us about their learning experiences and learning environments. We consider this information when developing our Education Plans, and we refer to this process as Student Voice

What have we learned?
In talking with students over the past five years, we’ve seen these patterns emerge:
Students value a safe, risk-free environment of learning for ALL students in their schools and classrooms.
Students noted the challenge teachers have in connecting instruction to the 'real world'. This is a goal of teachers across all grade levels.    

Students who reviewed this year's polling data made connections between the support they get from teachers, the mindset of creativity and the need to learn about money and finances. These ideas have contributed to our education plan focus on Student-Teacher Relationships.

What will Student Voice look like going forward?
After the Student Engagement Day in February 2016, we suggested that it might be repeated. “However, after comparing the depth and breadth of the conversations in small groups vs. the large gathering we determined that the small, site-based meetings are more effective,” said Thiesen. "Therefore we will continue to hold smaller Student Voice meetings at the schools."

Student Voice and Governance
Alberta Education and other organizations are also talking about Student Voice. The Minister of Education is actively seeking to convene a Minister’s Youth Council of junior and senior high students. Also, the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA) has included student delegates at various conferences and meetings. In this context, Student Voice is an opportunity for students with an interest in governance to share their ideas and to experience interactions with school board trustees. The PHPS board of trustees will continue to offer and support opportunities for student involvement at events such as these.

Focus on Student-Teacher Relationships
While these experiences draw some students’ interest and are valued by the governance body, it is in the classroom where the most valuable effects of Student Voice can be realized. University of Melbourne Professor John Hattie, who has conducted over 15 years of education research involving millions of students, confirms that Student-Teacher Relationships are one of the most influential elements of student achievement. Students develop self worth and confidence through engagement in learning experiences and through meaningful interactions with their teachers and others. Thiesen says, “Listening to Student Voice in this context is a continuous process. It is active and interactive. It involves questioning and challenge. This aligns with the education plan focus on Student-Teacher Relationships.”

The division will continue to work with principals and teachers to support classroom environments where students are actively engaged in communication about their learning. This fall, we will plan for student meetings at each school to listen and gather students’ perspectives. Through these approaches we will continue to honor Student Voice in Pembina Hills.

Published Apr 6, 2017