Student voice is everywhere and this is a good thing! Schools and districts are finding ways for students to have increased influence in the running of their schools and districts, and there have been numerous recent forums and events that have addressed some of the issues around this.
I recently attended one such event in Vancouver; It’s My Future was hosted by the Learning Partnership inviting students from 10 districts across Metro Vancouver to tackle some questions about their education including:
- What has worked well in education?
- Where are the opportunities for enhancement to public education?
- How is education helping students think about their job/career after high school?
Similar events are being presented throughout British Columbia and, actually, around the world. There is almost universal acceptance of the belief that students should have a greater voice in their schooling. Some of the latest efforts in BC have been around Student Trustees on Boards of Education with some examples of this from Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast.
So, will all these efforts lead to a greater student agency? Or, more directly, how do we move from giving students voice to giving students agency — the kind of learning that builds self-efficacy?
Learner agency is characterized by a pedagogy that builds on the passions of learners and also has real world relevance. We are seeing numerous examples of this in our schools, and the school structure is also beginning to change to accommodate this transition. Schools are adopting more flexible schedules, new and more personalized methods of reporting are being adopted, and examples of hands-on experiences from outdoor learning to community business partnerships are flourishing. Many do see learner agency as being key to the future of schooling. However, examples are far from universal.
And, could the new wave of learner voice lead to an even more, systemic learner agency? Certainly not to criticize, but it is important to note while learner voice is a good start, it can end up being a tokenism if we are not careful.
For myself, the question is whether the efforts of student voice and student agency are the same challenge, or two different efforts.
Maybe learner voice and learner agency are two different ideas that overlap; or maybe it is a continuum, and as we solidify learner voice at one end of the spectrum, we will increase learner agency and eventually land on learner leadership — where students are the leaders of the change and design of their educational programs.
I often reflect on a question I heard Alan November pose more than a decade ago, “Who Owns the Learning?“ Increasingly, the answer is “the learner” with voice and agency being key elements on this journey.