In education, administrators, teachers, and students are regarded as key stakeholders. However, for students, their ability to affect classroom policies is dependent on being heard. Including the student voice matters because it can lead to greater student engagement, help shape the culture of schools and classrooms, and, most importantly, help to advance educational equity. As the 2022-2023 school year commences, here are three reasons why it is important to raise up the student voice.
First, including students’ perspectives sets the foundation for students to cultivate their own voice, build agency, and take ownership of their education. Giving students agency allows them to become more than just consumers of knowledge. When students are heard and engaged in their schoolwork it sets them on a trajectory of academic success. According to Gallup, student engagement helps enhance math and reading skills. Without student voice, there is no room for student engagement. Therefore, implementing democratic classroom practices as well as regular student surveys can help boost engagement.
Second, student voice helps strengthen the classroom culture because educators can learn more about the school’s strengths and weaknesses. Student perspectives are imperative because they perceive education through a different lens than any other stakeholders. Students are able to notice what educators may not. Therefore, including their perspectives helps the system evolve with the times because students are connected to the current culture. Creating space for student government to voice opinions and collaborate with educators on school initiatives creates the pathway to inclusion.
Finally, for students of color, having a voice, especially in advanced coursework like Advanced Placement® is one of many determining factors to their success. Less than 3% of Black and Latino students enroll in AP® STEM courses annually. Investing in a school culture where marginalized students feel heard and supported by their teachers can nurture a feeling of belonging. This can increase enrollment in advanced coursework because it allows students of color to feel visible and comfortable. When students of color feel welcomed and are represented in curricula, it allows them to be fully present, speak up, and bring their communities into the classroom. DeKalb High School in Illinois noticed an increase in enrollment in the school’s college-level courses, and students’ post-secondary preparedness, when its student-led ambassador program comprised of advanced coursework students, assisted in recruiting upcoming students and providing additional academic support.
By amplifying the student voice, educators can create an inclusive environment, resulting in increased student engagement, a stronger school culture, and improved educational equity. All students must be held to equal standards and exposed to the same post-secondary opportunities. For an inclusive environment to thrive, all students’ needs and questions must be prioritized and encouraged. However, none of the above is achievable if the responsibility falls solely on teachers. Sustaining an inclusive environment is dependent on all stakeholders; administrators, teachers, and students must listen, learn, and follow through.