4 stories of how student voice is growing in volume

How educators are giving students the power to alter instruction and get involved in causes in and outside school
By: | July 31, 2020
The nearly 200 student voice committees created in Chicago Public Schools have gotten learners of all ages involved in community activism and causes such as equity in online learning and school dress codes.The nearly 200 student voice committees created in Chicago Public Schools have gotten learners of all ages involved in community activism and causes such as equity in online learning and school dress codes.

Student voice has had a big impact on diversifying the Springfield Renaissance School’s curriculum since coronavirus forced the students online.

Students told teachers and staff in a virtual “voice” session this spring that books celebrating diverse cultures and identities were only assigned “in pockets,” says Principal Arria Coburn, whose school for grades six to 12 is part of Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts.

“Students were very articulate in saying that we need to do more,” says Coburn. “They said talking about race and equity and inclusivity sometimes feels like just a special edition of the curriculum.”

Individual teachers can promote voice by making “social contracts” with their students that spell out, for example, how a class will resolve conflict, says Rebecca Coda, an educational consultant and former K-12 administrator.


More from DA: 5 reasons why SEL is essential in the COVID era


When working with educators, however, some have expressed concerns that student voice equates to giving up control.

“You’re not giving up authority – you’re saying, ‘I’m willing to listen, and if what you share is going to make us better at learning, then we’re all in,’” Coda says.  “Students’ actual words are what create change.”

While some districts have been steeped in student voice for several years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing Black Lives Matters movement has given more urgency to these efforts.

Here are student voice stories from four districts:

  1. How Chicago’s 200 student voice committees solve problems
  2. Student voice creates a greater sense of belonging and diversity 
  3. How a superintendent builds a ‘high level of student voice’
  4. Here’s where student voice inspires eighth-grade activism