Feeling Empowered as a Change Agent Through VOICE

This week reminded me that while being listened to is important, it is when those who are doing the listening actually act upon what you are saying that truly empowers. It made me think about students and student voice, and how students stop providing us with their thinking when they don’t see it valued or responded to. Motivation results when we genuinely feel that our voices are being honored. Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula, in their paper “Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” describe student voice as pedagogies in which “youth have the opportunity to influence decisions that will shape their lives” (pg. 23).  I would argue that the same holds true for adults – when they see their thinking responded to, it encourages motivation.


As an adult, I would argue that voice is equally important to my motivation (and I am thinking the motivation of others).  Recently, at an Ontario Ministry of Education learning session, a key message that we heard was the need to “slow down, learn more deeply, and consolidate our learning”.  This important message is one that we, as a school board, have communicated for the past two years during our Board Learning Plan Meetings with our Ministry Colleagues, as we had been hearing it from our educators across the district.  In fact, we recognized the importance of this slowing down, circling back to some of the many resources and readings that we have engaged with over the past several years and thus, this summer was the first time that we didn’t introduce a new “Leadership Summer Reading”, but instead, asked leaders to revisit a reading that they had already engaged in.  The result was a number of leaders reporting enhancements to their practice as they were rereading and going deeper as the lens through which they were reading had changed.  Our Professional Learning Communities have incorporated information from previous years, as an effort to revisit and to consolidate the thinking and learning.  The feedback has been powerful; educators have told us that they appreciate the opportunity to think more deeply about their learning over time, and the impact upon their students. The panic that we sometimes feel, as learners, when material is too fast or perhaps, not where we are in our own learning journey, is beginning to diminish.  I believe that we are honouring the voices of our educators, and through this action, empowering them to enhance their practice. This results, as it did in my case, in increased motivation.

This is just one example of a lesson that can be learned through genuinely understanding and honouring student voice, and a reminder of how student voice is learner centered.  Some consider student voice activities to involve students in simply speaking their minds (as sources of data), while others see a higher level of student voice entailing students as serving as change agents. It made me return to Toshalis and Nakkula’s paper, and the following quote resonated with me:

Whereas most curricula and pedagogy seek to change the student in some way, either through the accumulation of new knowledge, the shifting of perspectives, or the alteration of behaviors, student voice activities and programs position students as the agents of change. In this way, student voice is about agency. At its core, student voice is the antithesis of depersonalized, standardized, and homogenized educational experiences because it begins and ends with the thoughts, feelings, visions, and actions of the students themselves. This makes student voice profoundly student centered. Pg 23

The authors include the following graphic which I found to be useful as I am now realizing that I need to think about student voice as a continuum:


The graphic also made me realize that the example that I provided was only at the Partnership Level of the spectrum…and that our district’s shift to increasingly job-embedded professional learning, whereby educators are “co-planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes” is another example of how we are becoming increasingly “learner centered”.

Until next time…where does your practice sit on the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activities?  I am truly interested in your thinking as we learn together.  Please post your thinking to #NMCblog.  



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