An Intro to the Student Voice Movement

Around the world right now, there is a lot happening in education. There are struggles over accountability, challenges over funding, attempts to improve equity, fights against racial discrimination, and much more. However, when the question of student voice enters the picture, education advocate Michael Fullan may have said it best: “When adults think of students, they think of them as potential beneficiaries of change… they rarely think of students as participants in a process of school change and organizational life.”

The student voice movement is an international wave that’s sweeping throughout education right now. There are more individuals, organizations, classrooms, school buildings, education leaders, and parents committed to student voice than ever before. This movement largely intends to challenge what Fullan observed.

It’s working.

Like never before, teachers and students are forming student/adult partnerships within classrooms that are vital for success. They are understanding that when students are engaged as learners and leaders throughout education systems, schools become successful.

More districts, state and provincial agencies, and federal governments are infusing student voice into decision-making and policy developments. Building leaders have also recognized the importance of student voice by actively engaging students as partners in formal and informal efforts to improve schools.

While all that action is underway, the profiles of individual student leaders are rising in the mainstream media as they sound out about school reform and educational transformation. Nonprofit organizations and consulting firms have sprung up globally to support all this action, and even politicians and education publishers are starting to get on the bandwagon.

Here’s a breakdown of student voice throughout education.

  • Roles Affected By Student Voice: Students, Teachers, Parents, Building Leaders District Administrators, District Leaders, School Board Members State/Provincial Administrators, State/Provincial Leaders Federal Administrators Researchers, Advocates/Activists, Independent Consultants, Trainers Education-Focused Nonprofit Staff, Other Nonprofit Staff, and Others.
  • Places Affected By Student Voice: Classrooms, hallways, extracurricular spaces, building leadership, whole schools District administration, district boards of education, district leadership, Provincial/state leadership, Provincial/state administration Federal administration, Federal leadership United Nations, Local/national/international education-related nonprofits, and homes of students and adults in education.
  • Activities Affected By Student Voice: Learning, Education reform, Classroom teaching, School evaluation, Testing and assessment, Policy-making, Research, Curriculum, Classroom management, Dropouts, and much more!

Student voice happens all over the place, all the time. Focused on education-oriented topics, Student voice includes conversations related to Student engagement, Student participation, Meaningful Student Involvement, Student activism, Student-led organizing, Student-driven education transformation Student/adult partnerships, Students as allies, Students as partners, and Adult allies in schools.

There are threats to this movement. As Michael O’Loughlin wrote, “Teachers must resist the temptation to glamorize student voices, and recognize that the multiple voices that students bring to the classroom, while potentially possessing some elements of resistance and transformation, are likely to be imbued with status quo values.”

Building off O’Loughlin’s sentiment, along with other practitioners and my own work, I have identified a series of threats facing this movement, too, simply labeling them as whitewashing, showboating, pedestaling, heroism, lowballing, and sockpuppetry. These are all present, all the time, and are rearing themselves more as student voice increases in its vibrancy, vitality, and visibility.

There are many organizations involved in this movement. Roger Holdsworth started Connect magazine in 1979 to promote student participation in Australia. The University of Cambridge Economic and Social Research Council started a program on consulting pupils about teaching and learning in the mid-1990s. Here in the United States, I founded SoundOut in 2002 to promote a vision for student voice throughout education that I call Meaningful Student Involvement. Youth On Board started working deeply with across the Boston Public Schools around the same period, and TakingITGlobal was started around then. In the last decade, organizations have risen across the North America, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere focused on student voice too, including the English Secondary Students’ Association, r.u.MAD, Imagining Learning, Student Voice Live, and the Student Voice Initiative.

The California Association of Student Councils also operates important programs for the state’s education system, including the Student Advisory Board on Education (SABE) and Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education (SABLE). In Vermont, the unique UP for Learning (formerly YATST) does powerful work to build the capacity of students and schools for improvement. Inside the education system, there are several efforts too. They include Washington State’s former Student2Student program, Alberta’s SpeakOut project, Boston’s Student Advisory Council, Ontario’s Student Voice Initiative, and several others are happening across North America.

The future of these efforts is grand and wonderful, and calls for connectivity like never before. Recently, I re-launched The Student Voice News, a monthly collection of information related to the student voice movement. There are also collections of information from the Huffington Post and The Nation, as well as the important Student Voice Research and Practice group on Facebook. Several social media sites have important collections too, such as Bethan Morgan’s Scoop page. I continue to blog about student voice as well.

I would love to hear about the work YOU are doing to promote the student voice movement- please share in the comments section! Also, share this article with your networks and let’s GROW THE MOVEMENT further!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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

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