Establishing a Culture of Student Voice

Discussion created by on Jan 27, 2017

Student voice has a positive impact on the classroom climate when students are empowered to go from being observers to initiators. The process by which educators begin to strengthen student voice begins with establishing a supportive, community-minded culture in which students feel safe, respected, and know that their voices will be heard. It requires teachers to:


  • Communicate the value of student voices in the classroom
  • View what students can do alongside the teacher
  • Provide opportunities for student reflection and feedback

There are many tools for establishing a culture of student voice. Here are some practical examples that you can implement in your own classroom as you launch your students’ journey.


Develop Norms Together

John McCarthy, an education consultant and advocate for student voice in learning, discusses the importance of developing norms alongside students. When norms are developed alongside students, it sends a positive message that student voice is an inherent part of the classroom learning community. Norms are something different from the classroom rules that are meant to establish order. They provide the students and teacher with a shared understanding of how they can best support each other in the learning process. For example, an unspoken understanding that all opinions have merit and should be considered within the context of what is being studied.

McCarthy suggests an activity that can help you develop norms together with your students and help you move toward establishing a culture of student voice.


  1. Have students reflect and share examples of environments that they feel were positive, such as a sports team, church or scouting group, or family ritual.
  2. In small groups, ask students to unpack the examples for the behaviors that made the experience or vibe positive.
  3. Use Think-Pair-Share to create a list of positive behaviors that would support a learning environment where everyone feels successful and supported.
  4. Use a team building activity to identify behaviors. After each team builder, students reflect and share the skills that were needed to be successful at the task.
  5. The class collectively reduces the list to four to seven norms, framed in positive, student-friendly language. Some examples might include:
    • All voices need to be heard.
    • Talk after two. (Translation: Each person must wait until two others say something before speaking again.)
    • Presume positive intent.


Practice Reflection and Feedback

Asking students to provide rich, informative feedback about the classroom learning environment, curriculum, or assessment requires opportunities to practice reflection. When you establish a deeper understanding about how the classroom is structured, you can move beyond surface-level feedback, such as “less homework” or “more free time.” When you build students’ questioning and reflection skills, you give them a voice to create a more engaging and empowering learning culture.


You may want to use the ideas in strategies that promote student reflection and feedback to begin building a reflective culture in your own classroom.


Question Formulation Technique

Coach students on how to ask good questions and which to use depending on the circumstance and need. Use the Right Question Institute's rich resources, or start with these articles from Opening Paths.


Morning Meeting

Dialog provides a powerful voice for students reflecting on the current climate and needs. It's also good for reviewing their shared experiences at the end of the day, or for celebrations and concerns. The experience is valuable for all ages.


Writing reflections can be a tool for students to work through their thoughts and emotions before sharing a distillation to groups and/or the teacher.



Individual and anonymous feedback enables students to give focused responses to classroom culture concerns. Be sure to give the class opportunities for reviewing and analyzing the results together. For quick turnarounds, use social media survey tools.


Protocols for Reflection and Feedback

Protocols can help students work on active listening and ensure that every voice gets airtime. Using protocols creates a safe environment for students to express their thoughts and suggestions in constructive and supportive language. Some examples to explore are:


Engage and Discuss

Education culture can be powerful when students are encouraged to help shape what and how learning takes place every day. As an educator, how do you establish a culture that empowers student voices?

Learn from your colleagues and join the discussion below.