Student Councils and Student Voice by Jean Courtney

At the conclusion of a series of forums organized to gather input from a range of youth regarding student leadership, clicker data revealed that 90% of the participants saw themselves as leaders.   Interestingly,  fewer than 70% of them demonstrated their leadership at school.   Admittedly, it is a small sample, but it was aggregated  from a range of forums with a diversity of youth, so it raises an important question.  What conditions motivate youth to engage in their school communities in the interest of improving student achievement/engagement in their classrooms and school?  Who can play a key role in creating these conditions?  Student councils can.

From my experience, most high schools have student councils comprised of elected or appointed student leaders.   Student council executive are often said to be comprised  of youth who ran successful campaigns often seen as ‘popularity contests’.   Students said that student councils  often are implementing adult agendas.  Student councils need an update.   Here are a few recommendations from young people on what actions student council can take.

  • Motivate the student body to become leaders and change-makers and set out to do so by offering training and support.
  • Empower all student voices and be more than fundraisers and dance organizers.
  • Represent the diversity of the student body and be as concerned about academic engagement as about social engagement of all students.

Student councils could begin the academic year by organizing a student-led forum (see previous post) to assess student involvement, set and achieve student voice goals.  Other actions to consider:

  • Ensure that each grade and education pathway is represented on student council;
  • Believe that all students have leadership and find ways to make it obvious;
  • Offer positions and leadership roles for students in every grade;
  • Create sub-committees to address current issues and invite all interested students to join;
  • Promote students on council as representatives of student voice, not just event planners;
  • Consider running elections that are anonymous and focused on the candidate’s platforms.
  • Match elected student skill sets with council positions;
  • Survey students for their opinions on school issues and on what actions students and adults can take and, most importantly,
  • Report back to students about how their ideas have been used.

The following is a self-assessment tool that student councils may  use to understand where the  council is  and to assist in deciding where students would like to take it in the future.

Does our student council:

  • Have a constitution that was developed with student input?
  • Work in partnership with students, parents, teachers and administrators?
  • Promote student voice?
  • Function democratically?
  • Share the same vision as the student body?
  • Consult and report back to all students?
  • Reflect the diversity of our student population?

High school as well as elementary school student councils, student senates, student trustee and student advisory committee are (or have the potential to be) key contributors to student engagement.  The student perspective is a unique  lens and can inform school and board/district improvement efforts.  Have you had experience with student councils, student senates or student trustees?  Please think about sharing your story in this space.  With thanks!

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