When Student Voice Projects Fail

You’re reading this because you’re curious about what’s next. Its the end of a school year, and you think your student voice project has failed. Let me reassure you, you’re not alone. I have led and consulted on hundreds of student voice projects over more than a decade doing this work, and I have failed regularly. For a variety of reasons, my aspirations and the aspirations of the students who were involved simply weren’t met, and it’s felt like failure. Here’s one extreme story.

Many of my projects are wrapping up the school year, and some of the facilitators for the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum and others are asking themselves what is next. Here are some next steps.

11 Steps When Student Voice Projects Fail

  1. Acknowledge where student voice already and will continue existing. Before your project there was student voice in your school, and after your project there will be student voice in your school. Have hope that with time, the value of your project will be known by you, the students you worked with, and the entire school.
  2. Take stock of all activities. Make three columns on a piece of paper. Name the first “Activities”, the second “People”, and the third “Outcomes”. Then make lists of everything you’ve done, everyone involved and affected, and all the things that happened because of what you did. Everything.
  3. Actually engage students in talking about your project. Many projects focus on affecting students with student voice, instead of engaging students in learning about student voice. Have a conversation with a group of targeted participants and ask them about your project from their perspectives.
  4. Engage adults in taking about your project. Rather than allowing them to stand on the sidelines, talk with the adults you affected with your project (as identified in #1) and ask them their perspectives.
  5. Openly acknowledge barriers to your project. Don’t go quietly into the night. Instead, openly share the problems your project faced with the folks you’re connected with, whether students or adults. Share the limitations and challenges, and ask their thoughts on overcoming them. Listen carefully.
  6. Examine the intentions of your project clearly. Some projects fail for lack of understanding: Coordinators don’t examine their intentions and how their activities impact others. Explain the process, action and outcomes of your project clearly and simply.Take a real look.
  7. Acknowledge and accept responsibility. If you see your personal and professional shortcomings, acknowledge them, and name the places where you dropped the ball. Have you tokenized students? Truly successful student voice programs challenge young people and adults to be radically engaged within themselves, and this is why.
  8. Record and distribute current project outcomes. Sometimes the failure of student voice projects is a matter of projection: enough people don’t know about what you’ve done or why you did it to actually invest in your success.
  9. Make sure students know what has happened because of their participation. Whether you see your project as a success or failure, make sure that as an ethically responsible facilitator, you acknowledge student voice
  10. Build student authority to share on behalf of your project. If you want to continue, you have to give students capacity and power to speak for the project. Train them on social media and public relations and give them explicit permission to spread the word about their work.
  11. Right now, go and appeal directly to ALL school decision-makers. Learn the chain of authority in your school and work to ensure they know the value, ability, and potential of your project. That way they can back your project and ensure that it continues onward beyond this year.

Take stock, reflect and examine, then take action! Learn more from my new book, The Guide to Student Voice.

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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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