Year 7 Student Talei Whiteside was one of a panel of international students speaking at the Global Cities Education Network symposium earlier this year.
From the 12 to 14 March, Victoria and Asia Society Australia hosted education delegates representing nine different school systems from East Asia, North America and Australia.
Delegates explored how education systems equip students to work, live and study in highly globalised cities and culturally diverse communities.
At this event, Talei Whiteside, a Year 7 student from Upper Yarra Secondary College, spoke on a panel of education leaders from across Victoria.
Taking a leading role in their own education
Talei spoke about the role of student leaders, explored how schools can provide leadership opportunities and reflected on her own experiences.
When Talei was ten, her family searched for a secondary school that would prepare her for the future.
Talei said she was impressed when they went to Upper Yarra Secondary School's open night and the Year 7 Captains shared their stories.
'Each student spoke confidently about how engaged they were with their learning and the school,' Talei said. 'They were leaders - and I knew instantly in my heart that this was where I wanted to be educated for the future.'
From this experience, Talei considered the impact of education and her ideal values of a leader.
What it takes to give students the chance to lead
'I believe future leaders will need: creativity, the ability to look at things from multiple angles and levels, problem solving skills, confidence, resilience, the ability to present ideas through public speaking and all sorts of platforms, and ultimately a belief that their own voice matters,' Talei said.
Talei argued that it is the schools' role to prepare students with these skills, opportunities and role models, as well making their voices heard.
Talei also talked about leadership programs, school captains, student representative councils and other leadership roles that give students the chance to make an impact. In particular, she highlighted the Education State Student Advisory Group (ESSAG) which started in 2018.
'I was very blessed to be a part of this amazing group,' Talei said. 'It gave me role models in older student leaders, a voice that was listened to, and opportunities to develop my own public speaking skills and leadership.'
The group spoke directly to senior leaders at the Department about their education needs, their concerns and their hopes for future students.
'We discussed real issues facing students and how we could solve them and how the education department could help us,' Talei said.
'This gave me some amazing opportunities. I am passionate about student voice, and to meet and talk with others that are also passionate about student voice was amazing.'
Learning from peers and supported by teachers
Talei also attended the Respectful Relationships Student Voice Forum, where schools across the state shared how they developed equality and respect in their schools.
'Some students from St Joseph's Geelong spoke about how they created a culture team to develop a culture of respect towards women and another school shared about their "It's no joke" campaign to stop sexist jokes,' explained Talei.
'I felt inspired hearing from these other student leaders and immediately began imagining what I could do in my school. It would be great to see more students from various schools meeting together to share their ideas and inspire each other.
'There is a simple cycle that works to create leaders. Inspire students to lead – give them opportunities to lead with support – students then believe they can lead and make a difference – students then see problems as things to solve and work on solutions – these students then inspire others to lead.'
Speaking of support for students, Talei reflected on her time as a primary school student leader and dealing with conflict.
'Problems often come up when you are leading things, and teachers need to support you to get over that hump. This is what will prepare students for future leading and overcoming the difficulties that will always arise.
'Students need opportunities to lead so that they learn to lead. They need to be respected, listened to and empowered to run events, deal with issues and make a difference.'
Talei finished her speech by crediting the strong leadership pathway at her current secondary school and other opportunities, how they helped develop her voice so she could be heard.
'I have been inspired by older students [and] I have been given opportunities to lead both within my school and through ESSAG. These experiences have helped me believe in myself, my voice and my ability to make a difference.
'I already see issues as not something to complain about but rather as problems to solve. Finally, I hope that I can inspire other students as they pursue leadership to make the world a better place. Because our world's future leaders are the ones our schools empower today.'
Empower students in your school
Amplifying student voice, agency and leadership supports improved student wellbeing, engagement and learning outcomes. Students are empowered in their education when they are supported to develop their knowledge, skills and dispositions in voice, agency and leadership.
Teachers and school leaders can support student voice, agency and leadership by helping students own their learning and development. The student voice practice guide – Amplify – outlines the steps schools can take to enhance the leadership opportunities and engagement of their students.