Elizabeth Holmes continues her focus on CPD aspects of student voice, in CPD Week

It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.
Yogi Berra

Encouraging, engaging and acting upon pupil voice is an important aspect of teaching. While the current schools model doesn’t make this process as easy as it might be, there are steps we can all take, particularly in our attitudes, to make it a pain-free and productive process. Having looked last issue at eight key ideas for enhancing the extent to which pupil voice is gathered and listened to in your school, this issue we explore what some of these attitude changes might entail.

Professional learning for engaging pupil voice: part two
As in any professional learning, improving skills in engaging with student voice is dependent on the extent to which staff meet the learning half-way. It is in this feature of professional learning that its true potential lies, and when engagement with pupil voice is so dependent on the attitude of both staff and pupils, the more staff can put into it the better.

  • First, it’s essential to approach any kind of engagement with pupils’ journey through learning with a sense of humility. This process isn’t about making a judgement on what has happened in our classrooms to-date; rather, it is about helping to define what might come to pass. Ultimately, everything about pupil voice is a professional learning opportunity. The way we engage pupils and encourage them to reflect on their learning processes, the way they communicate their thoughts and reflections with us and so on are all opportunities for our own professional reflection.
  • Several roads led to the promotion of student voice as a worthwhile pursuit for schools, not least the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the belief that consulting children about key features of their education helps schools to self-improve. One clear downfall is the potential for pupils to merely ‘tweak’ the education they are already getting as a result of never having experienced anything different. It takes genuine collaboration between learners and teachers (and remember, those terms can be interchangeable in this process) to emerge from any consultations (which should ideally be ongoing) with a programme for change and development. The ‘tweaks’ are easy to identify; therefore, they shouldn’t interest you so much. What makes this whole thing work is moving beyond the less significant suggestions and towards the more radical thoughts. In order to produce these, pupils are going to need to be fully aware of their critical thinking skills and be given sufficient time to get creative in their thoughts.
  • It’s worth remembering that an impetus behind the drive to listen to student voice comes from a recognition of the fact that schools might more usefully reflect the democratic structures in the communities that pupils live in. With this in mind, we have to acknowledge that student voice is as much about making the school a listening community than anything else. And in a true listening community, all members are listened to. If your school is to develop its approach to student voice, it must also develop the extent to which it listens to staff. Once a school is listening, the quality of what’s said is more likely to improve.
  • We cannot expect pupils to engage in the idea of pupil voice without equipping them with the skills they need to articulate their views, and giving them opportunities to come to understand the nature of personal development and the ways in which their current experience of school might be blocking that.

All this has to come first, before a school even attempts to focus on pupil voice. You cannot use a toolkit; there is no such thing as an ‘off the shelf’ approach to this. The exercise is all about doing things differently, and becoming comfortable with that as a school. This is why whole-school attitude is everything.

Find out more…
These two information sheets (this issue’s Pupil Voice: Part 2 and last issue’s Pupil Voice: part 1) offer more food for thought on developing your school’s capacity to listen to pupil voice in its drive to raise standards.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 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.