Student voice is the subject of this CPD Week, as Elizabeth Holmes discusses the CPD preparation necessary behind making student voice work as a process

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Listening to student voice remains a goal for all schools, but it isn’t something that can be launched into without effective professional learning, to give teachers and other school staff a solid grounding in how to make the process work. This ebulletin, and the next, take a look at eight key ideas to help ensure the learning you undertake around the theme of student voice in your school is as productive as it can be.

Professional learning for engaging pupil voice
There is no set format for professional learning which focuses on enhancing the extent to which you seek and act on student voice in your school, but these eight key ideas will help to make sure that the learning you undertake in your school is as fruitful as possible:

  • Honouring complexities: the suggestions that pupils have for their learning often don’t account for just how complex a teacher’s role truly is. This tends to mean that only those teachers who really value what pupils have to say will make the effort of asking them for their opinion and then acting on it. Really engaging with pupil voice requires a sustained effort; any professional learning on this theme should ideally emphasise this and aim to support the effort involved, so that teaching may transform in response to pupil voice. That, after all, is the aim.
  • Identifying themes: you may find that there are common themes across year groups, teachers, subjects, gender, etc, regarding the outcomes of seeking student voice. Aim to determine what these themes may be in your school. This is a useful goal of any professional learning on pupil voice.
  • Being brave: don’t ever be hesitant about giving children the chance to speak out about their education and experience of school. Research has shown that most settings have nothing to fear. You can expect pupils to respond constructively as this is how the exercise will have been set up. You can also expect there to be a fair amount of similarity and agreement between pupils’ ideas and teachers’ opinions. Interestingly, school staff are often surprised at this.
  • Encouraging the less articulate: it can be easy to consult pupils who are articulate and successful; responses from such pupils will most likely be easy for staff to act upon. But your real target audience is those pupils who are not apparently articulate about what it is that helps them to learn. This naturally makes the task more difficult, but listening to the hard-to-reach should be your goal.
  • Sustaining the effort: gathering the views of students isn’t a one-off exercise; any professional learning for enhancing this in your school needs to emphasise its ongoing nature. Listening to pupil voice takes sustained effort. It also implies some subtle shifts in the balance of power in the classroom, although this should be handled in such a way as to give pupils the space and opportunity to have their views heard, but also an assurance of security in the fact that teachers are the lead learners in the classroom. This is not about handing over power and associated responsibility. It’s about listening and acting from a position of leadership. If, as a result of the speaking and listening process (or however else student voice is gathered), changes are introduced in your school’s classroom, professional learning in your school needs to cover ways in which pupils can be supported through those changes.
  • Not sweating it: research suggests that teachers generally find it easy to make suggested changes to their classroom practice in response to the requests of pupils. That’s not to say there isn’t any effort involved; there is, and professional learning should ideally emphasise this as well as offering staff ways of balancing these demands on their time with others.
  • Keeping a balance: one of the keys to listening to and acting upon pupil voice is maintaining a balance between what has to be done in school and what should ideally be done as a result of pupil voice exercises. It seems that having confidence about blending suggestions from pupils into the day-to-day work of your school in a sustained rather than sporadic way is crucial.
  • Developing the old, encouraging the new: it is most likely that students in your school will make suggestions based on existing practice rather than coming up with brand new ideas for incorporation. That’s great, as it shows strong reflection and engagement with what’s currently happening in your school – but do make sure that professional learning on student voice also helps teachers to encourage pupils to come up with fresh ideas.

Find out more…
This help sheet offers quick reference ideas for building professional learning around the theme of pupil voice.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.