We are often told that the good student is the quiet and conscientious student. In a classroom of 20 students, it is not hard to see why this is encouraged. Constant chatter is disruptive and teachers are under pressure to run a lesson for students that are eager to learn. However, in an effort to stamp out disruptive noise, an unintended and confusing message can be sent to students about when is the right time to speak up. When students lose their voice, teachers lose an opportunity to get to know them and have meaningful conversations with them.
The reality is that open and honest communication is hard for everyone, but for a student in a school environment it can be particularly intimidating. We fear that we will make a fool of ourselves, that others will judge us, that we will waste people’s time with our issues or that we might ask a silly question. Despite the numerous efforts of positive encouragement to speak up, there remains a distinct silence when it comes to students communicating their emotions, letting teachers know they didn’t quite understand something, giving thanks or opening up about their fears, vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams.
How different a school community might look if all students just told it how it was. The student who is feeling down after the death of a loved one, the student who wants to be a hair stylist when they grow up or the student who is feeling anxious after getting braces put on. If given the opportunity, teachers would leap at the chance to get to know their students on this level. So the question is, how do we start this dialogue in school communities?
Social media has taught us a valuable lesson that can provide insight into how school communities can achieve this. For all the debate around the utility of social media, it has undeniably shown us that, if given the right platform, students will engage with self-expression. The challenge then becomes digging into these same feelings that social media taps into and using them to start a different conversation. A conversation where the aim is not to broadcast, but to listen. To find answers into how to activate student voice, we must analyse the success of social media.