At Clifton Springs Primary School, a partnership between students and teachers has created an award-winning culture that harnesses the power of student voice to create a positive learning culture.
Clifton Springs Primary School takes student voice and student agency seriously. Over the last five years, the school has worked hard to embed a culture of student voice in the way they work. This has led to some major changes in the school, and a recent win at the VicSRC Awards for 2018 VicSRC of the Year.
Students have led projects like the design of new playground equipment and a bike shed, as well as worked with teachers and the school leadership to develop a system for behaviour improvement, where students are rewarded for displaying school values.
Beyond these student-led projects and products, the focus on strengthening student voice has also produced a positive culture of student engagement and leadership at Clifton Springs, and a strong sense of student ownership and pride in their school.
Student voice starts with student leadership
Assistant Principal Ben McCredden is proud of the school's hard work and the VicSRC Award, and hopes that other schools can see similar success with the help of their students.
An important first step in efforts to strengthen and embed student voice was to increase the value of student leadership positions in the school, explains Ben McCredden.
'We increased the number of leadership positions in the school, and worked with the students to make the roles more meaningful, valuable and attractive to students.
'We asked our student leaders – the school and house captains, and student wellbeing captains - "how do we make the roles more authentic and fun?" The kids brainstormed answers and we worked with them to put those in to action.'
'Now,' says Ben, 'these leadership roles that used to need a tap on the shoulder have two thirds of the eligible students apply.'
With a highly engaged and valued student leadership, the next focus area for strengthening student voice was to incorporate it in to student learning.
Clifton Springs introduced a system of regular student surveys about their teachers, their school and their learning. Students are surveyed three times a year, and spend time unpacking the results with their teachers.
From one set of these survey results, explains Year 4 student Sarah, the student and staff leadership saw that students wanted more of say in their learning.
'So [students] did a teach-the-teacher course, we ran a staff meeting with every teacher, and together we came up with a list of possible strategies that we could use,' said Sarah.
In recognition of their award as 2018 VicSRC of the Year, the students produced a video that shows how the students worked with teachers to create major school improvements, including:
- Classroom feedback walls where students can post suggestions and questions
- A behaviour matrix based on school values, and tick charts where students can earn rewards for their behaviour
- Student structured learning time
- Student influence of style and topics of library books
Practical tips for strengthning student voice and engagement
Students at Clifton Springs Primary School feel like they have real influence in their education. This has contributed to a positive learning culture and learning outcomes for the students, as reflected student feedback surveys, attitude to school surveys, and the general desire of so many of the kids to participate in leadership roles in the school.
Developing this culture of student engagement starts with an expectation among the staff and students that student voice will be part of the way the school works.
It's important that teachers are all really invested. Teachers at Clifton Springs value student feedback, and use it to set goals for themselves, improve teaching practice, and the kids' learning environment.
'When new teachers are coming in to the school,' says Ben, 'student voice and student agency are incorporated in to the interview process and it is a part of the induction of staff.'
Offering advice to other schools, Ben suggests that schools look at what practical changes could be made to increase students' desire to be involved.
'Switching SRC meeting to learning time, and involving the assistant principal in these meetings was a big success for us. It really showed the kids that this is a key part of student's learning, and a big part of the school culture.'
'We also really celebrate leadership positions, and achievements like the VicSRC award, which helps make them something kids want to be involved in' says Ben. 'Once kids are inspired to be leaders, they want to get involved. Demand is so high now, that next year SRC will have subcommittees with different areas of focus.'
'Finally, if you are having kids make decisions or raise money for a certain thing, make sure it happens – students want to see their voice heard and results in action. Making sure tangible things happen around the school so that they can see they have made a difference.'
Support student voice in your classroom
Student voice has become an integral part of the Victorian education system. Helping students to take ownership of their education enhances their engagement and enriches their participation in the school community.
The Department has a student voice practice guide to help teachers and school leaders to make the most of the insights that students can bring to the education conversation. See:
Amplify: The student voice practice guide