Student voice is becoming increasingly important in many schools and educational institutions around the world – and quite rightly, too. I’ve always subscribed to the Freirean idea that student need to be subjects in their own education, not simply objects acted upon by teachers, if they are truly to succeed, and certainly there is a real movement towards student-centered education and student voice being more central in schools.
Of course, there are lots of ways that student voice can work in schools, and Edutopia has shared some of these. See, for example, here and here. These forms often take the shape of student led councils, or student parliaments or some other kind of representative body that allows students to participate in the decision making process of their school. Of course, there’s a lot of variation about the level of student voice and the pwoer that these bodies might actually have – often, they can be tokenistic, a sham to students’ desire to be involved, although, on occasion, schools have run very successfully where students have a great deal of power – see Summerhayes, for example.
But what role should students have in selecting staff that work at the school? This is something that I’ve seen appear in quite a few twitter discussions recently – and, not surprisingly, it’s generated a lot of debate. When I was teaching in the UK,early in the 2000s, it was not uncommon for students to be involved in the appointment process, especially for senior positions in the school, but also for new teachers. Teachers would have an interview with the principal and a coordinator, then they would teach a lesson in front of the Teaching and Learning Coordinator, for example. Then, they would have to front an interview panel composed solely of students – who would ask questions that they felt would help them make a decision about whether the teacher in question was well suited to the school.
It was a strange experience – but not necessarily a bad one. What originally surprised me was how much the school’s and the students’ opinions were in agreement – often they had both identified the same candidate to employ – which I think suggests that students often deserve more credit about teaching and learning than they are given.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some pretty firm arguments that students have no role whatsoever in these kinds of decisions. It’s up to the school leadership to decide who to appoint, and any such decision is beyond the understanding of children. Again, I can see this point, too – after all, who would want to be told that they didn’t get the job because ‘Little Sophie in Year 3 didn’t like the look of you’!
It does, however, raise some interesting thoughts about the role of students. In the interests of generating discussion, here are some questions that I would have about the process if any school leader or administrator was considering putting this in place.
1) Are you clear about the purpose of a student interview panel?
Why are you doing this? Are you supporting or trying to develop a more student entered approach to schooling? Are you trying to include students in the life of the school? Or is this just a box to tick and an article for the newsletter?
2) Are you clear about the power that students will have?
Do students only contribute to the final decision, or will they be full partners? One the one hand, contributions runs the risk of tokenism, but full partners seems to abrogate responsibility that might be best left in the hands of school leaders.
3) What preparation have students had?
There’s no point throwing students into the room to interview someone if they don’t know what they’re doing. See this as an opportunity for teaching. Ask them to consider what they think is important in a teacher, and then craft questions around that.
4) What kinds of students are part of the panel?
It might be tempting to put your very best students on display in the interview panel – but you might get a more interesting response with some of your more challenging students – they might ask the really tough questions.