Using student representatives to improve communication with your class

Maybe it’s a German thing, but we have had student representatives starting as early as in primary school: two students per class, a boy and a girl, that get selected by the class and that have the mandate to speak for the whole group whenever the teacher wants easy access to what the class thinks about certain topics, but doesn’t want to open up a discussion with everyone, or when there are issues the class wants to bring to the teacher’s attention without making it obvious who raised the issues.

I remember that at least one year, we talked about what that role contained: How you needed to be approachable to all kids in the class, not just a small clique, and how you needed to keep things told to you in confidence to yourself. And how the teacher wouldn’t project complaints on the messenger, but would also know that they were just conveying a message that they might or might not agree with.

This obviously also works at university level: Sometimes it’s good if students don’t have to approach the teacher themselves about something that is bothering them. And sometimes it is easier to check in with one or two students to get a quick feedback than trying to get individual feedback from every student, or discussing with the whole class.

However, for me having student representatives is really one step on the way from not talking to students to talking to as many students as possible, which would be the ideal case. Not necessarily because you might not get all the information by not talking to everybody (which you might not), but because I think it matters to students to be asked and heard, more so through a conversation or even anonymous feedback forms than through student representatives. Unless you make it very clear that you want to get everybody’s feedback on an issue, but that you are asking the student representatives to collect and compile it for you, in which case it would probably be a good idea to provide a little time for those discussions to show how serious you are about making sure everybody is represented and heard, not just the student representative and their best friends.

What do you think? What are your experiences with student representatives?

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