Listen up: giving students a voice (and a choice) in their education

Thursday, 01 Jul 2021

For many of us who grew up in years gone by, we were told ‘be seen, not heard’. And the same was reflected in our schooling decades ago. But as generations evolve, and where students are given the opportunity to self-reflect and speak up on their own learning needs, so too does our understanding of teaching and learning evolve.  

Student voice involves engaging with our students and listening to their opinions, beliefs and perspectives. It involves incorporating this feedback into everything from school leadership to instructional approaches. Student voice can’t replace the voices of parents, researchers or experienced teachers but it can value-add to the outcomes and create ownership and curate student offerings. 

Research indicates that students who believe they have a voice are seven times more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not believe they have a voice (Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations, 2016). This report also concluded that student voice led to an increased likelihood that students will experience self-worth, engagement, and purpose in their schooling years. These indicators are related to traits associated with the development of intrinsic motivation which we know is a desirable characteristic for building grit and determinations.

Historically, student voice in schools relates to student representative councils where formal meetings are held with elected representatives on a fortnightly basis. Opinions and viewpoints are gathered based on the tabled agenda with proposals being presented to school leadership. 

Student voice today has the opportunity to reflect the complex dynamic of teaching in a personalised learning environment. At our school, this is achieved through student surveys, interviews and the early introduction of curriculum choice of both learning areas and utilsing project based learning. Student voice permeates all levels of our work together, from students participating in small group classroom conversations to students partnering in curriculum design or establishing school norms and policy.

A key example of this student voice in years 5 to 8 is The Kaizen Initiative. Kaizen is a Japanese word that describes the concept of continuous improvement. This program was driven by student voice with the goal of increasing student engagement through cutting edge curriculum innovation. The Kaizen Initiative units are driven by passions and also have a career focus. This multi-age curriculum project is now in its fourth year at BDC. Kaizen Initiative classes are timetabled according to interest not by age. Students can choose from the more regular extension electives such as history and STEM to also include more exotic ideas such as first responders, Eurovision, mountain bike course design, kidpreneurship, architecture and design, civil engineering and athlete development. 

Follow the link to see the fun in action -

The encouraging news from this type of student voice and choice is that teachers and students alike are confident in the meaningfulness of their learning journey with 88% of the students affirming that “I believe I can be successful”, 83% of students tell us that they enjoy learning new things as it has relevance, usefulness and meaning. 

As a school and a collective of teachers, would we have achieved such high levels of engagement and academic success without their voice? Maybe. But by giving the students voices and choices around their learning and interests, students know they are being heard, are more engaged in their learning, and their results speak for themselves. 

Nick Johnstone 

This article first appeared in the July 2021 edition of Focus Magazine


The Glossary of Education Reform. 2021. Student Voice Definition. [online] Available at: < > [Accessed 15 June 2021].