Want to Know How to Improve Schools? Ask Students, says ELC Professor Katherine Mansfield

Posted on February 21, 2019

The question of how to improve schools continues to be one of the most vexing issues for educational policy makers, practitioners, and researchers. Dr. Katherine Cumings Mansfield, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations, has changed the way we think about the challenge of school improvement by highlighting the importance of student voice for school leadership.

This new direction has roots in a study that Dr. Mansfield conducted at an all-girls STEM academy in a low-income urban center in Texas over a span of six years. Mansfield’s award-winning ethnography fills a critical void in the research literature by revealing specific pedagogical practices that help minoritized girls and young women excel in math, science, and the liberal and fine arts. One of the more surprising aspects of Mansfield’s findings included the important role student voice played in the success of the school. For example, school administration regularly consulted with students to determine strengths and areas of need. Moreover, the principal responded to students’ concerns by implementing changes in addition to amplifying what they were doing well with fellow stakeholders. Students also took on major leadership roles such as serving on faculty hiring committees that included intense training, participating in interviews, and evaluating lesson demonstrations.

Based on her observations of shared leadership, Mansfield co-led (with Anjalé Welton and Mark Halx) the first-ever session on student voice at the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) Annual Convention in 2012. Since then, the student voice-educational leadership movement has grown exponentially with “student voice” being named the UCEA conference theme in 2017. Meanwhile, Mansfield, working with Dana Mitra of Penn State, co-founded the International Journal of Student Voice (IJSV), a peer-reviewed, open access e-journal. Mansfield has presented scholarship on the topic of student voice around the world, including a recent invited lecture at Università Di Padova, Italy. Mansfield is also using what she has learned in her classroom at UNCG by teaching future principals how to include students as co-leaders in their data-based decision-making.

A sampling of Mansfield’s work on student voice and educational leadership can be found in the following publications:

  • Lac, V.T. & Mansfield, K.C. (2018). What do students have to do with educational leadership?: Making a case for centering student voice. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(1), 38-58.
  • Mansfield, K.C. (2014). How listening to student voices can inform and strengthen social justice research and practice. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(3), 392-430.
  • Mansfield, K.C., Welton, A., Halx, M.D. (2012). Listening to student voice: Toward a more inclusive theory for research and practice. In C. Boske & S. Diem (Eds.), Global leadership for social justice: Taking it from field to practice (pp. 21-41). United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.