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The importance of student voice
By BGS Executive Director – Educational Innovation Jacqui Zervos

A colleague recently shared with me a thought-provoking opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald (April 29) calling for the voice of students to be included in the national discourse on home-based learning. The author claimed that the views and feelings of students are being ignored, before raising critical questions: How are students faring? What is and isn’t working for them? Are they willing to risk their health going back to school?

A fourth question provocatively asked - Has anyone bothered to ask?

As I read the final question, my immediate and quite audible response was a resounding, “Yes, we have!”

At BGS, we have not only bothered to ask our students how they are coping and what is and isn’t working for them, but we have also done so from the very first week of home-based learning in Term 1. We have collected and analysed their views on a weekly basis and responded quickly to feedback that identified their wellbeing and academic needs.

Importantly, we have sought to capture an authentic student voice, shaping weekly questions in response to trends and issues emerging in the data. These surveys provide data and findings that are immediately useful to academic and wellbeing leaders, allowing us to optimise outcomes for our students during home-based learning.

At a macro level, the data has been used in a multitude of beneficial ways, including:

  • to guide infrastructural decision making (e.g. timetabling);
  • to promote online classroom approaches that students identify as being the most productive for their learning;
  • to design targeted professional learning activities for teachers that support their use of digital technologies and assist them to design activities that promote student thinking; and
  • to identify and respond to school-wide, year level specific, and discipline specific issues that emerge.

Key themes have emerged in our students’ response to the home-based setting, providing useful information about their developing learning dispositions and the ways they have adapted to change. As a result, we have greater insights into what activities our students perceive to be most valuable to their learning. This information has been shared with academic leaders who are leading conversations with teachers about adjusting online classroom practices to be responsive to the boys’ experiences and learning preferences.

On a micro-level, the data has been profoundly important. In the weekly student survey, we ask a series of questions about how boys are coping (how they are feeling, their level of exercise, sleep quality and learning productivity) so we can track how individual students are travelling. If an individual student responds in a manner that is of concern, his responses are immediately flagged with Heads of Year so that they can make contact to check-in and provide support. Form Tutors also make use of student wellbeing data in their daily Tutor Group conversations with boys, and during formal check-ins on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons.

As we shift our attention to planning for a full transition back to on-campus learning, it is again an evidence-informed approach that is shaping our decision-making. We have a wealth of valuable learning from this period, and we are considering the structures and practices that can be leveraged to help our transition back to the formal classroom to build our post-pandemic ‘new and enhanced normal.’

We are already addressing the third question in the Sydney Morning Herald article - Are they willing to risk their health going back to school? – having acted recently to seek student input on the topic. While we must abide by government directives, we have asked our students how they feel about the impending return, offering them the opportunity to express their concerns and their hopes. Their responses will allow us to plan appropriately, anticipate and respond to challenges to create a successful transition for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge and has required our rapid response to government directives within time limitations. It has been our responsible commitment to an evidence-based process that has kept us grounded; guiding and enabling us to identify issues and respond early, flexibly and personally. Through this approach, we have proudly prioritised the very student voice called for in the Sydney Morning Herald article.

In closing, I would like to express thanks to the many parents who have provided their feedback. Your support, advice, and challenge have really helped us understand what is working, not working, and how we can successfully emerge from this situation together in a stronger position than we entered – as individuals, as families and as a community.

Accompanying this article is an infographic that provides a snapshot of data activity and the key themes that have recently emerged. Click here to view the infographic in PDF format. 

First page of the PDF file: Leadinfographic_1

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