For the Whole of Their Life.

What Can We Do to Make This Right? The Questions We Must Keep Asking our Students

Posted 27th May 2019
By Ellie Rolfe

'What can we do to make this right?' This was the question I asked a student recently, who had made some poor choices in her behaviour. At first, she seemed surprised that I was asking her this question - probably expecting me to tell her what the answer to this question was. But I didn't say anything and the longer the silence went, the more she began to think through what had happened and take ownership for her behaviour. By asking her opinion, I wanted her to know that I believed she already knew how to restore the relationships that had been broken. I asked asked the same question to the students who were directly impacted by her behaviour, and while they too were surprised that I was asking rather than telling, they left the conversation feeling more empowered and an increasing sense of dignity because they had a say.

At St Philip's Christian College, we want to have a culture where all of our students have an opportunity to express their voice, even in matters of discipline. We want our students to be able to speak into their experience of the schooling process because it is a fact that they become much more motivated and engaged if they are confident that their opinions matter. When students know they have a voice, they begin to own their experience rather than simply meet the expectations of others.


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Listening to the student voice takes place in a number of ways. Many teachers begin each year by asking the students to help create the classroom expectations and routines. Twice a year, every student completes an online survey of their teachers. This comprehensive feedback provides our staff with valuable data in understanding what they can do to improve the learning environment. We also do a number of annual broader surveys which also informs what is working, what needs adjusting, what we should continue to do and what we should stop doing. The more frequently we hear students voices, the more likely we are able to observe patterns in the culture. While I think I know what is best for students, the truth is, it has been a long time since I was a teenager.

One of things that Darren and I enjoy doing is walking around the playground, or having lunch with small groups of students and asking them lots of questions. It is amazing how willing they are to speak and share their views. They love to be asked, and in the process, community and trust is further enhanced. It is about engaging them as partners in learning, which raises their leadership skills and increases their sense of belonging. However, the easy part is asking - what happens after that is what truly matters. The real challenge lies in listening carefully to what they are telling us, reflecting upon it, learning from it and leading change with students by our sides.

Martin Telfer

Principal at St Philip's Christian College Port Stephens

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