Seen but not heard



There has been plenty of discussion of young people’s leadership in the world lately following Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN. Young people are raising their voices, both in the community and at school, but are they being heard?

In a school setting, I think we’ve got a little better at letting students have their say. I love the way lots of schools have replaced parent-teacher interviews with student-led conferences where students share where they’re up to with their families.

Students are encouraged to speak up not told to shut up. This means having a say in their learning too, including what they learn. There’s room to improve on this, but I’m encouraged when I see more chances for student feedback.

At this time of year, there are lots of discussions happening about choosing school leaders, including school captains.These traditional student leadership roles are a type of leadership but we also need to provide opportunities for every student to develop these skills and share their ideas.

After all, what skill could be more essential? These days there are many more ways that young people can raise their voices, including through social media. If you’re in doubt about their capacity, look at Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai or ask them to help when you can’t figure out how to use your mobile!

As an aside, this is not the first time that young people have shown large-scale leadership. In my generation, many older people were very dismissive of the Vietnam Moratorium movement.

When we dismiss the voices of children and young people, we pass up an opportunity to consider their concerns and to change. Perhaps that’s why some grown-ups have selective hearing! I think we could get a lot out of being better listeners, myself included.

Greg Whitby is the executive director of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta. Follow him on Twitter @gregwhitby
Learn more about Greg