Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the youngest Primary division students or the oldest Senior division students. Elementary school is a crucial time in a student’s life, as it is where they begin to develop their sense of identity and learn essential social and emotional skills. When students feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, they are more engaged in the learning process and are better able to take ownership of their education.
One way to support and encourage student voice in school is through student council, which provides students with the opportunity to become involved in their school’s decision-making process and represent their peers. Oftentimes, high schools have student councils, but they are not always commonplace in elementary schools. How can we effectively implement a student council in an elementary school to foster student voice? Let’s explore this further!
Benefits of Student Council in Elementary School
There are a number of benefits of student council to both the students and the school community. Student councils allow students to develop leadership skills as they take on the responsibilities of representing their peers and making decisions that impact the school. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them. Being a member of the student council gives these students a sense of empowerment and encourages them to become active members of their community.
We don’t want our school systems to create passive learners; rather, we want to empower and inspire our students to develop and implement meaningful change in the world! Student council is a great strategy to promote student voice and agency. It provides a platform for students to voice their opinions and ideas, which can be used to determine some school policies and processes, fundraiser ideas, theme days, and special events at the school. This promotes a sense of ownership and involvement in the school community, which can improve student engagement and academic outcomes.
Assembling a Successful Student Council
A successful student council should be diverse and inclusive. “The overall goal of the student council is to represent each grade and the students as a whole and provide leadership for the student body” (classroom.synonym.com). The leaders of the student council could be students from the highest grade, depending on the structure of your school (mine would be Grade 8 students). One way that these student leaders could be chosen would be through an election or vote process, allowing their peers to identify and select which students best represent their class and school community. This strategy in and of itself allows students to exercise their student voice and make the council representative of them.
Another way to assemble a council is through teacher nominations. Teachers could nominate students who they believe would make effective leaders and represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers. I believe that it would be beneficial and important to have 1-2 students from each class be “class representatives” on the student council. This allows all voices to be heard from various classes and grades, while also making it easier to communicate information to the larger school community (i.e., class representatives can promote the upcoming fundraiser to their own classes).
Twinkl has curated a few helpful resources to get you started on assembling your own student council (Twinkl – How to Start a Student Council):
The American Student Council Association is a great starting point for your research: https://www.naesp.org/asca.
Many states have their own student council associations, such as the Texas Association of Student Councils: https://www.tasconline.org/what-is-a-student-council-.
The National Education Association has some helpful hints for starting an elementary school student council: http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/Elementary-School-Student-Council.html.
Supporting Student Voice
The more that we as educators can give our students “choice, control, challenge, and opportunities for collaboration, the greater their motivation and engagement will be” (Student Voice: A Growing Movement Within Education That Benefits Students and Teachers, pg. 2). Student council can be a great way to encourage students to share their thinking by creating a safe and inclusive environment where all ideas and opinions are valued. Through regular meetings with teachers and administrators, students can help to plan and facilitate school activities that they would want to participate in. These could be fundraiser activities, like book fairs or dance-a-thons, or community service initiatives, such as food and clothing drives.
Student council could also plan fun events, such as theme days (e.g., jersey days, pajama days), which would help to foster a positive and unified school community. During meetings, students could provide feedback on school policies and programs and have a say in decision-making, such as improving school facilities (e.g., recess equipment) or promoting environmental sustainability (e.g., composting program). All of these different examples of involvement provide students with a sense of agency and allows them to actively contribute to their school community, rather than being passive learners and products of the system.
Student councils can be a valuable resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. One way the student council can help educators differentiate instruction is by gathering and analyzing student feedback on learning experiences. Student council could create a student survey where they assessed their learning environment and experiences at school, while also suggesting ways that their learning experience could be improved (i.e., hands-on learning, field trips, outdoor learning experiences, etc.). With this information, educators can tailor their instruction to better meet the diverse needs of their students.
The student feedback could also be used to help guide the student council’s programming. For example, student council members could create and participate in a peer mentor or tutoring program at school, providing additional support to students who need it. This can be particularly helpful for students who may be struggling with specific concepts or skills. Survey feedback about representation could be used to guide in-school initiatives, such as Black History Month programming or a Girl’s Coding and Robotics Club.
Developing Global Competencies
Participating in the student council would provide countless opportunities for students to develop global competencies. Collaboration and communication are at the forefront of the council, allowing students to use their voice to share ideas and communicate change to the larger student body. There will be plenty of opportunities to work through challenges and find solutions to issues occurring within the school. This collaboration will encourage students to exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By working as a student community to represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers, student council members develop empathy and respect for others, which strengthens their citizenship competencies. To further this sense of citizenship beyond the school walls, student council could facilitate initiatives that promote global issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice and equity. This can help them develop a global perspective and prepare them for an increasingly interconnected world.
From leadership roles that encourage student voice to developing students’ global competencies, student council provides numerous benefits to elementary school students. Does your elementary school have a student council? How does your student council promote student voice, choice, and agency? What are some important considerations when facilitating a student council? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences and develop our students’ sense of belonging and citizenship in our global world.
A resource that I feel would work well with my Grade 3 students to integrate FNMI teachings and develop their citizenship competencies is the “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series. This series of books are written by an author, Chad Solomon, who is a part of the Henvey Inlet First Nation community in Ontario (www.goodminds.com). Since he is a member of the FNMI community, we know his books’ content is authentic and appropriate to use as a teaching resource about FNMI culture and teachings.
Chad’s “Rabbit and Bear Paws” book series is a collection of early reader stories, each focusing on a different Grandfather Teaching. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are a set of traditional teachings from Anishinaabe culture that promote values such as respect, love, honesty, courage, wisdom, humility, and truth (www.aihschgo.org). These values are relatable teachings that students can easily recognize in their own lives and intentionally work towards developing further. This helps to bridge the gap between communities and recognize that our outlooks on life are similar, therefore developing our citizenship to our local, national and global communities.
Incorporating these teachings into a Grade 3 classroom in a respectful way can be done by using FNMI-curated resources that appropriately reflect their culture’s teachings. It is important that these teachings are used in a respectful manner, and given the content of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, they could be used as a tool for promoting positive behaviour in the classroom and school community. In fact, this year, our school, following the guidance of our board’s FNMI liaison, is using the Seven Grandfather Teachings as our monthly virtue assemblies. Each month, classrooms teach about one of the teachings and promote/identify this value in all that we do. Then, we come together at the end of the month as a school community to reflect and celebrate the strides we have made in developing that specific virtue. As we do, we always acknowledge the origins of the teachings and the importance of FNMI knowledge and culture; we must remember that, while these teachings are transferable across cultures, we must not claim them as our own.
Teaching Resources/Supports: https://rabbitandbearpaws.com/teachings/
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences.
Global Competencies refer to a set of “knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values” that help individuals understand and engage with the world around them (OECD: Global Competency for a Global World, pg. 7). These competencies include:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship
- Self-directed learning
Educators build upon these competencies in the classroom, through intentional learning activities, so that students are prepared to be effective and responsible citizens of a global society.
There are several connections between the use of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and students’ development of Global Competencies. Firstly, in order to be a respectful and effective global citizen, students need to have an understanding of the world around them. By integrating Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into our teaching practice and having students learn about different cultures, ideologies, and perspectives, students will become a more knowledgeable and empathetic citizen of the world.
However, we don’t just want our students to understand the world around them; we want them to be active members of a global community! Educators that are “engaged in the work of culturally responsive pedagogy are ‘committed to collective, not just merely individual empowerment’ such that the impact of this approach to teaching is directed towards making change for all members of society” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 7). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy can help teach students that their voice and actions can make a difference, therefore developing social responsibility, global citizenship, and communication skills. These, too, are important global competencies that all students should develop within our classrooms.
We are only able to solve problems that we are made aware of. Therefore, by intentionally learning about both local and global issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, students can develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for addressing global issues, especially when they become the adults in society that drive this change. We can also build upon these Global Competencies through a culturally responsive lens; by examining and discussing the ways in which different cultures approach and understand these issues (i.e., what led communities to experience this issue, what are the varying viewpoints from different groups involved), students can develop a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in solving global issues.