Imagining an ideal school for wellbeing: Locating student voice

Abstract

This article explores the significance of actively engaging with students in school about matters that concern them. The discussion draws upon data from a large-scale mixed methods study in Australia that investigated how ‘wellbeing’ in schools is understood and facilitated. The qualitative phase of the research included semi-structured focus group interviews with 606 students, aged between 6 and 17 years, which incorporated an activity inviting students to imagine, draw and discuss an ideal school that promoted their wellbeing. These data reveal how capable students are of providing rich, nuanced accounts of their experience that could potentially inform school improvement. While varying somewhat across the age range involved, students identified creative ways that pedagogy, the school environment and relationships could be improved, changed or maintained to assist their wellbeing. They placed particular emphasis on the importance of opportunities to ‘have a say’ in relation to these matters. Such findings challenge deeply entrenched assumptions about who has the authority to speak on matters of student wellbeing, while also highlighting the potential of more democratic, participatory and inclusive approaches to change and improvement in schools.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the funders of this research: the Australian Research Council (ARC); the Catholic Schools Office, Lismore; Interrelate; and Good Grief Ltd. Particular thanks to other members of the project team and to the many schools involved in this research – the principals and teachers who so generously gave their time and expertise and especially the students whose views, perspectives and imaginations were integral to the project and to this particular paper. Thanks also to Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass for her helpful comments on early drafts of this article.

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Correspondence to Catharine Simmons.

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Simmons, C., Graham, A. & Thomas, N. Imagining an ideal school for wellbeing: Locating student voice. J Educ Change 16, 129–144 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-014-9239-8

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Keywords

  • Relationships
  • Participation
  • Qualitative research
  • Student wellbeing
  • School improvement
  • Student voice