Reimagining student participation in schools: a cohesive approach to school-wide wellbeing through developing adult-student partnerships

Year: 2019

Author: Gillett-Swan, Jenna, Graham, Linda, Robertson, Mitchell

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Developing contextually responsive approaches to student wellbeing requires focused attention to what matters to students. The importance of determining and understanding student experiences from their perspectives is therefore an important endeavour. This project sought to engage in a deeply collaborative process between the university researchers, school leadership, and students, to enact a voice inclusive approach to school improvement. The purpose was to support the school to develop and integrate processes that would build a culture of student voice and seek more opportunities for its integration in everyday practice.

A mixed-methods sequential phase design that commenced with a staff and student survey was used to elicit the perspectives of staff and students (grades 7–10) on student wellbeing. Focus groups (n=101 students) enabled further exploration of survey findings. Following this, two parallel groups were formed: a staff working party (n=11) representing different areas of school leadership and responsibility, and a multi-year level student inquiry group (n=21 students). Through a series of weekly sessions over six months, the student inquiry group was supported to co-research wellbeing at their school. The student inquiry group divided themselves into smaller project groups, with each group investigating different wellbeing issues identified through the survey and focus groups. At the same time, the university research team worked with the staff working party to analyse the cumulative research findings. Both datasets were integrated and used to support the introduction of a school-wide culture change where student perspectives on issues relating to their wellbeing at school were actively sought, valued, taken seriously and acted upon. The consultative process culminated in a collaboratively developed school-wide wellbeing framework for action and school strategic priority, implemented in 2019.

A key aim of the project was to support, enable, and facilitate staff and student engagement in ongoing, meaningful consultations about wellbeing at the school. Through the conduct of this research project, new insights were revealed through directly engaging with students on issues that matter to them, influencing staff perceptions of student voice and its value for school improvement. Robust and intentional collaborative processes enabled the project’s achievement of, and contribution to, a number of impacts on students, staff, and school, including strengthening staff-student relationships, streamlining support, and fostering additional opportunities for student connectedness and belonging. Project processes, impacts and wider implications for schools and education systems will be discussed.