20 Ways to Stop Tokenizing Student Voice

As student voice becomes a bigger issue throughout schools, tokenism is bound to happen. Whenever students are in formal and informal roles only to say they have a voice, instead of purpose, power, and possibility, they are being tokenized. Without substance, student voice is little more than loud whisper into a vacuum.

Here are 20 ways to stop tokenizing student voice.

  1. Choose different students who have a range of diverse experiences and opinions.
  2. Don’t limit student voice to single issues at convenient times by creating numerous activities to engage broad numbers of students that are infused throughout schools.
  3. Engage as many students as possible in every possible circumstance.
  4. Treat and tell students they are experts in their own experience in schools and do activities that reinforce their expertise right now. 
  5. Train students and adults on student voice, and don’t assume that simply because they work with or are students they understand student voice or can speak on all issues in education.
  6. Avoid any representative activities that position students as officials on their peer group, instead concentrating on that specific student as a person.
  7. Throughout the education system, promote equitable and full transparency between students and adults.
  8. Reach out individually to disengaged students who aren’t traditionally heard in schools, not only to students you personally know and like.
  9. Don’t just create special and unique student voice opportunities; instead, infuse student voice everyday through regular classroom activities, extracurricular activities, and things students already do.
  10. Practice mutual accountability with students through student-led evaluations of you and your work, whether you’re a teacher, program director, or student leader.
  11. Invite students to form student/adult partnerships by working together with adults in class, education program, organization, or conference. Get them active early in the planning cycle.
  12. Engage students and use a broad array of activities, programs, organizations, and conferences that have fun built into them, but aren’t focused solely on having fun.
  13. Teach students about education, the school system, how it functions, what its roles are, and what its significance is within a democratic society.
  14. Provide opportunities for students to connect with each other outside traditionally adult-exclusive education activities so they can see that they’re not the only students in the room, and that they have things in common past their age-based identities.
  15. When sharing student voice on a specific topic, provide a variety of perspectives and not just ones you agree with from the easiest students you could listen to.
  16. Make space for each student as an individual who has their own stories, perspectives, ideas, and knowledge.
  17. Build the capacity of students to lead their own activities and participate as equitable partners with adults throughout the education system.
  18. Remember that all issues throughout the education system are student issues, because in the education system, all issues affect students
  19. After learning what the choices are, allow students to decide which issues are important for them to share their voice in. 
  20. When appropriate, explain to students that not everything they suggest will be acted on, but may inform decisions going forward.


Ultimately, adults who are committed to engaging student voice in education must move beyond student voice by integrating Meaningful Student Involvement into classrooms, programs, school board rooms, and beyond. This reflects the ethical responsibility all educators have to acknowledge the capacity of students to affect, drive, promote, and create school improvement goals, activities, and initiatives.

With more classrooms, school boards, education programs, and organizations concerned with student voice, there’s more tokenism. Learn more about it in the companion article, 51 Ways to Tokenize Student Voice

Learn more about student voice in schools at SoundOut.org or contact us.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at https://adamfletcher.net

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