25 SES 02 A, Participation to Connect Members of the School Community
In this symposium, we ask the question of how student participation can shape school life and which ways of participative school improvement can be enacted in order to connect all members of the school community.
As Mitra (2018) formulates research about student participation focuses on the question: “how young people can impact the work of school reform when adults learn how to lead in a youth-adult partnership and the potential pitfalls of student voice efforts.” In our understanding participation occurs when students are offered the possibility to form and express their opinion, are involved in decisions, and have the opportunity to actively influence school life (Cook-Sather, 2018, p.; Lundy, 2007; Mitra, 2018). We consider participation as a continuum and highlight the need for collectivity negotiating different needs and perspectives among the members of the school community – especially those of students and adults (Mitra, 2018).
Participation, which is related to many positive effects, can be considered an aim of school improvement but also a way to support improvement. An aim since students experiencing participation display an enhanced commitment to learning and to school, which leads to “a more partnership-oriented” teacher-student relationship (Rudduck, 2007, p. 600). And a way to school improvement since students are a valuable source for adults working in the school to consider. Thus, participation can have a great influence on school life and school climate. However, asking students to participate in decisions within schools is a rather new phenomenon resulting from the juridification of human, especially of children’s rights (Murray et al., 2019). Schools are traditionally hierarchical institutions, assessing qualifications and producing various kinds of inequality. Children's rights are externally set, high expectations for schools that reveals many discrepancies with everyday school practice.
By creating an environment where students can develop a sense of self-efficacy, self-worth and belonging schools can play an important role in “reducing vulnerability to social exclusion” (Razer et al., 2013, p. 1164). Crucial actions for schools to become places of inclusion are to foster the formation of inclusive relationships and analyze students’ needs in order to be able to meet these needs (Razer et al., 2013, p. 1164). As Park (2018) states: “A large part of promoting […] inclusive school environment requires actively resisting and eliminating deficit thinking about culturally diverse students” (2018, p. 621).
The symposium includes three studies, all showing some of the discrepancies between children’s rights and forms of participation in schools. The first one is a qualitative study (Hüpping, Büker) focusing on the micro-level of participation, describing a change process indicated by student-researchers in primary schools. Empowering students working as researchers represents a “deep-seated social and cultural assumptions about the capacity of young people” (Cook-Sather, 2018). The second study (Häbig et al.) takes the meso-level into account and shows how inclusion/exclusion is co-constructed within the school community. The analysis shows the interdependence in the interactions and lets us conclude, that changing the dominant culture means changes by all actors of the school community. The last presentation (Gamsjäger, Wetzelhütter) integrates micro, and meso perspectives and adds the macro perspective by analyzing their mutual influences on student participation.
Findings from these three studies lead to reflections on the compatibility of participation as a right and other school traditions and expectations.
Cook-Sather, A. (2018). Tracing the Evolution of Student Voice in Educational Research. In R. Bourke & J. Loveridge (Eds.), Radical Collegiality through Student Voice: Educational Experience, Policy and Practice (pp. 17–38). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1858-0_2 Lundy, L. (2007). ‘Voice’ Is Not Enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927–942. Mitra, D. (2018). Student voice in secondary schools: The possibility for deeper change. Journal of Educational Administration, 56(5), 473–487. Murray, J., Swadener, B. B., & Smith, K. (2019). Introduction. The state of young chirldren’s right. In The Routledge International Handbook of Young Children’s Rights. Routledge. Park, V. (2018). Leading Data Conversation Moves: Toward Data-Informed Leadership for Equity and Learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(4), 617–647. Razer, M., Friedman, V. J., & Warshofsky, B. (2013). Schools as agents of social exclusion and inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(11), 1152–1170. Rudduck, J. (2007). Student Voice, Student Engagement, and School Reform. In D. Thiessen & A. Cook-Sather (Eds.), International Handbook of Student Experience in Elementary and Secondary School (pp. 587–610). Springer.
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