Why Student Voice Doesn’t Work

SO guyMany educators assume student voice is expressed when students make choices. That is correct, although its not the only way.

Instead, consider that voice is apparent throughout the entirety of the students’ being, rather than just the choices educators assign them to make. When a student slouches in class, they’re expressing student voice. When they’re raising their hand and appear engaged, they’re expressing student voice.

Whenever students show up to school, get in fights, turn in all their assignments, text friends during class, conform to uniforms, graffiti in bathroom stalls, or otherwise, they are expressing student voice. That’s because student voice is any expression of any learner focused on education or schools anywhere, anytime. I defined it that way in my Guide to Student Voice, and the reason why is because students are whole people, right now. Their whole being expresses student voice. Whether or not they’re conscious of that is irrelevant.

I think the reality is that educators are searching for meaning beyond the complex/simple or A/B expressions of students implicit in the conception of voice = choice. Constantly listening to student voice is inherently unfulfilling, because it grossly oversimplifies students themselves. We can do better than that!

That’s why I developed a framework for engaging students as partners throughout the education system called Meaningful Student Involvement. It embraces student voice, but effectively repositions them as equitable partners throughout the educational system in order to infuse their voices with purpose and potential, rather than simply hearing what they have to say.

I’d love to hear what you think about that.

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