Skip Navigation

Home Publications Short-term impacts of student listening circles on student perceptions of school climate and of their own competencies

Short-term impacts of student listening circles on student perceptions of school climate and of their own competencies

by Thomas Hanson, Jeff Polik and Rebeca Cerna

An activity for eliciting student involvement in collaborative decision-making and problem-solving with adults--the student listening circle workshop--is examined for the first time through an experimental study of its effects on participating students. A student listening circle is a facilitated focus group in which students articulate to adults their experiences, perspectives, and ideas on an important school topic and then collaborate with those adults to plan and implement related actions to improve their school climate. Although the student listening circle is intended partly as a tool to gather data to be used in school improvement efforts, it can also be considered a student intervention (O'Malley, Voight, & Izu, 2013). Accordingly, this study examines the potential impact of students' participation in listening circles on the students involved. Conducted by the School Climate Alliance with technical support from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) West, the study took place at nine middle schools in eight California school districts in spring 2015. The study has a primary experimental component and a secondary descriptive component. The primary component is a random assignment investigation of the impacts of student listening circles on the perceptions of student participants. The secondary component is a descriptive study of staff participants' perceptions before and after a student listening circle. The primary component used surveys to ascertain student perceptions of school climate and of their competencies and compared responses from an intervention group of students with those from a control group 1 week before and 1 week and 12 weeks after participation in a student listening circle. The secondary component used surveys to assess changes in staff participants' perceptions of school supports and of student competencies after the student listening circles, as well as interviews to assess staff perceptions of practices implemented as a result of the intervention. The experimental results showed no discernible effects of the student listening circle on student participants' perceptions of school climate or on their competencies. Participation in the student listening circle was not associated with changes in student perceptions about their input into decision-making at school, relationships with school staff and peers, school bonding (sense of connectedness/belonging at school), competencies for improving the school (students' perceived ability to effect school change), or academic self-efficacy (perceived ability to succeed academically). The descriptive results of the study show that after participating in a student listening circle, a larger percentage of school staff reported the belief that students have opportunities for meaningful participation at school, trust in students, and recognition of students' competency in school improvement. These descriptive results do not provide evidence about the impacts of student listening circles because there was no staff control group. Thus any increases in staff perceptions could be due to factors other than student participation in a listening circle. Moreover, students' actual opportunities and competencies were not directly measured in the study--only staff and student perceptions of opportunities. According to interviews with school principals and student listening circle coordinators, schools followed through with most of the actions suggested during the student listening circles and implemented multiple school-improvement practices to address issues identified during the student listening circles. Although the experimental findings suggest that the student listening circle has no discernible impact on student participants, there are other reasons to implement and conduct further research. Student listening circles are also intended to improve the overall school climate by altering perceptions of staff, actively promoting a more positive school climate, and implementing schoolwide practices. Future studies with a different design may seek to ascertain the extent to which student listening circles have schoolwide effects other than on the perceptions of student and staff participants. Potential schoolwide impacts include effects on decision-making practices in schools, school bonding, and improved relationships between school staff and students. The following are appended: (1) Research design, outcome measures, and analysis methods; (2) Student listening circle goals set and actions taken; (3) Ancillary analyses of student surveys; and (4) Student and staff surveys.

Online Availability

Connect with REL West