10 Ways To Advocate for Student Voice

Originally published as Fletcher, A. (August 2019) “10 things you can do to advocate for student voice,” Connect 208. p. 20. Retrieved May 12, 2020 from https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1217&context=connect

Student Voice is not a mysterious ethereal thing without faces or names, identity or purpose. Instead, it is the practical expressions of every student in every school about education, learning and schools. For a lot of reasons, sometimes adults don’t want to hear or engage Student Voice though. Whether you are a student or an adult, here are 10 ways you can advocate for Student Voice.

  1. Learn about Student Voice. Did you know that Student Voice is more than classes voting or school-wide meetings? Learn about student voice from the SoundOut website, or through a number of books and websites.
  2. Brainstorm what your school can do to change. The power of your imagination is a terrible thing to waste! Brainstorm different ways your school could engage student voice more, and make a list.
  3. Talk to other students about Student Voice. Ask your friends if they know about Student Voice. Share your ideas about which changes your school can make, and ask if they have any ideas themselves. Challenge them to ask you hard questions, and see if you can answer them, or tell them you’ll get back to them after your learn more.
  4. Find an adult ally. Create a learning partnership with an adult to help your efforts. Engaging an adult ally can make planning more effective and connections with other adults easier.
  5. Create a Student Voice plan for your school or community organization. Maybe your school or the neighborhood nonprofit needs more Student Voice. Work with your friends to make a plan for who, what, when, where and how Student Voice can be used.
  6. Hold a Student Voice workshop. Invite other youth and adults in your community to learn about Student Voice by facilitating a hands-on demonstration workshop. Research Student Voice learning activities and use them to help participants learn by experiencing democracy in education.
  7. Present your plan to school decision-makers. Who makes decisions about how teachers should teach in your school? Teachers, principals, assistant principals, district administrators and district board of education members can all affect Student Voice. Share your plan to them one-on-one or make a presentation to the school board.
  8. Present your plan to community decision-makers. Who chooses which schools and nonprofit organizations get funding? Present your plan to them, as well as neighborhood association presidents, local businesspeople and youth organizations’ leaders.
  9. Organize! If your efforts to work with the education system aren’t working, organize. Find other people who care about Student Voice by sharing the idea every chance you get, and ask them to join you in promoting the concept in your school or community. Then determine a goal and take action to put Student Voice into action for everyone!
  10. Find allies online. Having a hard time finding other youth and adults who care? Look online through websites like soundout.org. People you can partner with are everywhere, and sometimes it’s just a matter of asking!

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Remembering Lois

My friend Lois Brewer has passed away.

On Sunday, April 12, 2020, Lois Brewer’s family announced her passing. Seattle’s strongest champion for service learning, Lois began her advocacy and involvement with the movement in the 1990s. After that, she became involved in the local, state and national levels promoting high quality, authentic, equitable and powerful service learning experiences for students.

Along the way, she and I wove together a tapestry of mutual respect, friendship and determination. We met in 1999 when I was an AmeriCorps Leader in New Mexico and presented at the National Service Learning Conference. Lois came to me after my session and said we should work together when I got back to Washington state, and I excitedly agreed. The next year we became friends through involvement with the Learn and Serve America grant at the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. After that, she and I collaborated on literally dozens of projects, building activities from scratch and fighting the good fight as comrades.

A microbiologist by training, Lois’s love for learning led to her involvement with Seattle Public Schools and a decades-long career in service to others. More than 30 years ago, Lois established and led a program called Service Learning Seattle. Through it, she guided dozens of K-12 schools citywide as they created powerful, effective opportunities for students to learn through service. In addition to convening a large annual symposium for hundreds of student and educators to attend, Lois was also the engine behind some of the earliest efforts in King County to focus on the south side of Seattle. She was also a grant writer for students at Stevens Elementary and Cleveland STEM High Schools. Her support was also given to AmeriCorps and VISTA while she helped dozens of members towards success through the years. 

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can do.”

Arthur Ashe

Lois was active in the service learning movement throughout her career. A frequent presenter at the National Service Learning Conference, she was a founding member of Service Learning Washington, the Seattle Youth Engagement Zone, and the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre. She was also a member of SOAR and Civics for All, and a champion of student equity, STEM, civic education and much more.

We conspired on things a lot, and she frequently brought me into spaces I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Early in our efforts, Lois helped me with presentations at the National Service Learning Conference. Throughout the years, she gave me keynote opportunities at conferences for Seattle Public Schools, let me facilitate workshops at several of her annual symposia, and worked with me to develop her organization, Service Learning Seattle, as well as the Seattle Youth Engagement Zone and more. We sat on SOAR’s Partnership Board together for five years, and she funded some of my best work, including the SoundOut Summer Camps in Seattle; the Youth Media Summer Camp, and; the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre.

The last time Lois and I talked was January of this year. We sat in her beautiful Craftsman style home at her gorgeous oak dining room table on a sunny winter day. Along with discussing racial equity, youth engagement, service learning and changing schools like we always did, she doted on her grandkids in New Mexico. It was always the best to hear her enjoy them, along with her love of her son and daughter. She was so proud of them all. While we sat there her husband Don was in the backyard doing a project, but came in and said goodbye to me when I left. Lois waved me out the door, smiling like she always did, and I felt good about where we were: On fire with the love of helping schools be better, and engaging youth in making the world a better place.

Lois lived by the Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can do.” She would have wanted nothing more than for us to honor that message in her memory.

Goodbye Lois.

Elsewhere Online

Serving the School as Community

Originally published as:
Fletcher, A. (2006) “SoundOut: Serving the school as community,” ServiceLine Journal 16 (1). Page 3. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The agenda of schools is routinely set by adults.

“Educating the future workforce,” “Promoting abetter tomorrow,” and even, “Making a better democracy,” are all goals found plastered across schools throughout Washington. Recent statistics show that 92% of any given school’s total population is made of students themselves, and that students routinely spend anywhere from six to ten hours a day at school.

However, when was the last time students themselves had a voice in determining the goals of education?

I founded SoundOut in 2003 to respond to this inequity. After carefully studying research supporting student voice, I held informal conversations with students, teachers, administrators, and other allies across the country that helped me form a new vision of education. At its heart, this vision is service-learning: it centers on infusing radical democracy throughout the education system, where adults partner with every student as they learn, teach, and lead democracy throughout society.

SoundOut has several projects, including a growing Internet resource center for educators, school-wide leadership training for students and adults, and student-centered programs for schools. Our most successful project so far has been the SoundOut Student Forums. With the support of the HumanLinks Foundation in Bothell, Washington, SoundOut has worked with more than 500 students and educators in 12 schools from each corner of the state to foster student involvement in school improvement.Working with a principal-selected cadre of traditional and nontraditional student leaders in each school,SoundOut trains participants to solicit, analyze, and aggregate student voice centered on changing schools.

Using these findings, the student leaders partner with teachers to design and implement action plans responding to the most urgent student concerns.In some cases students also correlate their findings with their school’s formalized improvement plan, increasing the efficacy and sustainability of their findings and action plans.I have found that students are more than willing to share their thoughts, emotions, ideas, and dreams about school – when given proper respect, encouragement, and safety.

One of the biggest roadblocks I’ve experienced hasn’t been students’ reception; instead, it’s been adults. When told that their students are going to be encouraged to speak frankly about teaching styles, classroom curricula, or the learning environment, a few teachers in each school actually act aggressively towards their students, using their authority to threaten students.This serves to extinguish any enthusiasm students may have felt for the project; worst still, it encourages other teachers to do the same. More than one school building leader has approached me excitedly about hosting the SoundOut Student Forums in theirschool, only to leave their students “hung dry”when teachers complained about the outcomes ofthe forums.There have also been some glorious occasionswhere you could almost feel the culture of a school change.

In a 2005 training event sponsored by OSPI, the assistant principal of a rural high school led his students towards a SoundOut training event pragmatically, privately revealing to me that, “We’ve got to find some way to connect with our kids, in a massive and real way. They’re moving out of town too fast, and we need their energy to keep the town alive.” That sort of desperation falls heavy on any facilitator’s shoulders, and I am adamant telling people that I don’t offer any “silver bullets” for their schools, let alone entire communities. However, within two days the students from this school left the training charged, committed to helping their peers see the necessity of staying in town and making it a better place. Moreover, the school’s principal showed up at the closing of the event to thank me personally, because, as he said, “I could feel the energy of [the assistant principal] and the kids over the phone!” Calling in on them recently reconfirmed my hopes, when the “Student/AdultPartner Committee” leader (a student) told me that everything was going excellent at his school, because of the SoundOut training.

The SoundOut Student Forums embody a powerful model of service-learning by engaging students as full members of their school community.This authoritative position actively builds on students’ interpersonal communication and critical thinking skills, as well as building their sense of civic responsibility by extending their notion of community.Students work extensively with adult partners and their peers to identify real community needs within education; this strengthens the collaborative process at the heart of effective service learning. The entirety of the project is contingent upon student voice, and embeds reflection throughout.Recently, SoundOut became a program of anew national nonprofit organization formed in Olympia called CommonAction.

Focusing on promoting democratic youth-adult partnerships throughout society, SoundOut fits perfectly withinCommonAction’s mission. We are actively seeking new schools to participate in our training and programs, as well as funders to help the project take wings. With luck, the notion behind SoundOut will grow well beyond our meager number of schools; we only hope to support this movement as it goes there. I would love to hear what you think.


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Adam F.C. Fletcher Bibliography

This is a list of books, chapters for edited books, academic journal articles, magazine articles and other materials Adam F. C. Fletcher has written independently and for publishers.

Chronological listing

  1. (forthcoming) Democracy Deficit Disorder: Learning Democracy with the Next Generation (with J. Cynthia McDermott). New York City: Peter Lang Publishers.
  2. “Sabotaging Meaningful Student Involvement,” (April 2020) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 242. Pages 23-26. ISSN 2202-4908.
  3. “Youth Voice at home,” (April 2020) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 242. Pages 26-27. ISSN 2202-4908.
  4. (Winter 2019) “Welcome to the Movement for Meaningful Student Involvement,” LeaderBoard 5(1). Michigan Association of School Boards. Pages 18-21.
  5. “Walking with Terry in Northern England,” (August 2019) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 238. Pages 23. ISSN 2202-4908.
  6. “Chapter 6- Beyond Revolution: Transforming Whole Schools to Foster Student Power” in Wurdinger, S.D., McDermott, J.C., Harell, K. and Smith, H. (eds) (2019) Empowering our Students for the Future Encouraging Self-Direction and Life-Long Learning. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1475845808.
  7. Parent Youth Engagement Seminar Curriculum (2018) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 192 pages.
  8. Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook (2017) Olympia, WA: CommonAction Publishing. 374 pages. ISBN 978-0692954447.
  9. North Omaha History: Volume One (as Adam Fletcher Sasse) (2016) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 274 pages. ISBN 978-1533361981.
  10. North Omaha History: Volume Two (as Adam Fletcher Sasse) (2016) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 282 pages. ISBN 978-1539578635.
  11. North Omaha History: Volume Three (as Adam Fletcher Sasse) (2016) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 292 pages. ISBN 978-1539973614.
  12. “Roles for students throughout the education system,” (October 2017) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 227. Pages 22-23. ISSN 2202-4908.
  13. (Fall 2016/5777) “A Short History of North Omaha’s Now-Abandoned Jewish Community” (as Adam Fletcher Sasse) in Western States Jewish History, vol. XLIX no. 1. Pages 57-65.
  14. Facing Adultism (2015) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 190 pages. ISBN 978-1517641238.
  15. “Before You Were Alive: A Taskforce on Student Involvement,” (June 2015) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 213. Pages 22-23. ISSN 2202-4908.
  16. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy (2015) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 81 pages.
  17. Freechild Youth Action Program Curriculum (2015) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 129 pages.
  18. The Practice of Youth Engagement (2014) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 294 pages. ISBN 978-1501001758.
  19. A Short Introduction to Youth Rights (2014) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 14 pages.
  20. The Guide to Student Voice (2014) Olympia, WA: CommonAction Publishing. 66 pages. ISBN 978-0692217320.
  21. School Boards of the Future: A Guide to Students as Education Policy-Makers (2014) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 54 pages. ISBN 978-1502983442.
  22. A Short Guide to Holistic Youth Development (2014) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 28 pages.
  23. “10 things you can do to advocate for student voice,” (August 2014) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 208. Pages 20. ISSN 2202-4908.
  24. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement (2013) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 22 pages.
  25. A Unique Introduction to Youth Engagement (2013) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 23 pages.
  26. The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide (2013) Scotts Valley: Createspace. 56 pages. ISBN 978-1482607727.
  27. The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide (2013) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 52 pages.
  28. “Cascading leadership among students,” (June 2013) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 201. Pages 21-22. ISSN 2202-4908.
  29. “51 ways to tokenize student voice,” (February 2013) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 199. Pages 19-20. ISSN 2202-4908.
  30. Suffering Love, Laughing at Myself (as Adam Sasse) (2013) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 60 pages. ISBN 978-1492244653.
  31. “Full personhood for all,” (April 2013) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 200. Page 21-22. ISSN 2202-4908.
  32. “Students as education advocates,” (February 2012) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 193. Pages 22-23. ISSN 2202-4908.
  33. SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum (2012) Scotts Valley, CA: Createspace. 378 pages. ISBN 978-1483941394.
  34. “Convenient or inconvenient student voice,” (October 2012) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 197. Page 18-19. ISSN 2202-4908.
  35. “Student voice as a Trojan horse,” (April 2012) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 194-195. Pages 24. ISSN 2202-4908.
  36. “Students as education decision-makers,” (December 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 192. Pages 15-16. ABN 98-174-663-341.
  37. “Students as education evaluators,” (October 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 191. Page 32-33. ISSN 2202-4908.
  38. “Keeping an eye out: How adults perceive students,” (August 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 190. Page 27. ISSN 2202-4908.
  39. “Students as researchers,” (June 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 189. Pages 22. ISSN 2202-4908.
  40. “Students as education planners,” (April 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 188. Pages 20. ABN 98-174-663-341.
  41. The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit (2011) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 105 pages.
  42. “Typical engagement?,” (February 2011) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 187. Pages 24-25. ISSN 2202-4908.
  43. The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide (2010) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 71 pages.
  44. “Rules of student engagement,” (October-December 2010) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 185-186. Pages 33. ISSN 2202-4908.
  45. “Meaningful student involvement in the USA and Canada,” (August 2010) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 184. Page 20. ISSN 2202-4908.
  46. “The Architecture of Student Ownership,” Educational Leadership 66 (3), 96. (Fall 2008) Pages 23-29.
  47. “10 ways to kill student engagement,” (August-October 2007) Connect Supporting Student Participation No. 166-167. Page 3. ISSN 2202-4908.
  48. Washington Youth Voice Handbook: The what, who, why, where, when, and how youth voice happens (2006) Olympia, WA: CommonAction
  49. Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People (2006) Olympia, WA: Freechild Project.
  50. Fletcher, A. (Fall 2006) “When youth voice grows up,” ServiceLine Journal 17 (1) Page 5-6. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  51. Fletcher, A. (2006) “SoundOut: Serving the school as community,” ServiceLine Journal 16 (1). Page 3. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  52. Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide (2005) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.
  53. Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change (2005) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.
  54. Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change (2005) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 48 pages.
  55. Fletcher, A. (Fall 2005) “Learning from failure,” ServiceLine Journal 15 (2). Page 10-11. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  56. Fletcher, A. (Spring 2005) “Students reflect on learning through service to the environment,” ServiceLine Journal 15 (1). Pages 10-11. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  57. “Meaningful Student Involvement: Reciprocity in Schools through Service-Learning” (2004) The Bridge: The Journal of University Promise. University of Minnesota. Pages 96-114.
  58. Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement (2003) Bothell, WA: HumanLinks Foundation and SoundOut.
  59. Meaningful Student Involvement Resource Guide (2003) Bothell, WA: HumanLinks Foundation and SoundOut.
  60. Meaningful Student Involvement: Guide to Inclusive School Change (2003) Bothell, WA: HumanLinks Foundation and SoundOut.
  61. Fletcher, A. (ed.) (Summer 2002) ServiceLine Journal 12 (3). Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  62. Firestarter Youth Empowerment Participant Guidebook (2001) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 40 pages.
  63. Firestarter Youth Empowerment Facilitator’s Guide (2001) Olympia, WA: Freechild Institute. 12 pages.
  64. Fletcher, A. (2001) Meaningful Student Involvement: An Idea Guide for Schools. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  65. Fletcher, A. (Fall 2001). “When youth have a voice, school climate changes,” ServiceLine Journal 11 (3). Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  66. Fletcher, A. (Summer 2001) “Students have big say at new school,” ServiceLine Journal 11 (2). Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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Different Ways to Change the World

There are a lot of ways to change the world. For hundreds of years, people young and old have been moving and striving and fighting to make a difference using these different ways.

This image illustrates different ways to change the world
These are different ways to change the world by Adam Fletcher.

Here are some different ways to change the world.

  • Change Communities—When people connect because of their identity, their locations, their cultures or beliefs, their work, their recreation or many other reasons, they are forming community. One of the ways to change the world is to change communities, including neighborhoods, institutions, faith-based groups, and other places. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
  • Change Actions—The ways we behave, including our actions, reactions, responses and motivations, can be changed in order to change the world. Whether addressed alone or in groups, the actions we take can impact ourselves and others, small groups or large ones, and so on. Here are some examples of people changing communities »
  • Change Individuals—No matter how a person identifies, including their age, race, gender, socio-economic status, education or otherwise, it takes individual people to change the world. When groups of people change, more of the world changes. As the entire world is affected, the whole world changes. Here are some examples of people changing individuals »
  • Change Issues—The topics that matter most to us are the issues we can change. Addressing a specific issue can take a lot of different kinds of actions, diverse numbers of people and various communities. However, it can also simply require the power of one person in one community taking one action to address one issue to change the world. Here are some examples of issues changing the world »

Deciding how to change the world isn’t exclusive to just one of those approaches; sometimes you have to use all four. Do you have thoughts, concerns or questions about these ways? Leave a comment below!

Once you’ve decided what to do, then get to work. You might like this guide I wrote »

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King County Superior Court Parent Youth Connections Seminar

The Parent-Youth Connections Seminar, or PYCS, was a project of the King County Superior Court with primary focus on early intervention for low-risk youth involved in the court system. Focused on providing fun, interactive seminars to low-risk youth offenders and a parent or other connected adult, Adam Fletcher facilitated the program throughout 2018 as a principal consultant with The Athena Group.

Together, youth and adults explore youth engagement, community empowerment and social change. They explore the skills, knowledge and actions needed to change their lives and the world around them.

Project Description

In this project, Adam designed and facilitated a 12-hour research-driven program designed to engage and empower families to change their lives. The Parent Youth Connections Seminar used intensive hands-on, interactive and focused activities, to engage parents and youth as they worked together to learn new knowledge, explore previous practices and grow new possibilities for their families. Over two-days, each session featured four workshops for learners of all ages including adult-only and youth-only groups.

The purpose of the Parent Youth Connections Seminar was to engage youth and caring adults in critical topics that would empower young people to make better decisions, be leaders in the future and change their lives in positive ways.

Workshop topics include:

  • Youth voice
  • Community involvement
  • Facing stereotypes
  • Changing communication
  • Establishing and maintaining power, trust and respect
  • Individual and Family Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Action planning and problem-solving everyday
  • Finding real adult support

During each seminar, Adam ensured that participants were actively involved, heard engaging stories, completed challenging activities, participated in powerful reflection, discovered useful resources for the future and more.

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Seeing Poor People in the Pandemic

The other day I saw a note that said poor people are more mentally prepared for the pandemic than anyone else in society. I don’t want to romanticize poverty, and I know that statement was ultimately made to alleviate the pain people are facing right now.

However, growing up as a homeless kid then in a poor family, I knew what it was like to be stuck at home and not being go out. I knew what it was like having empty cupboards and skipping meals because we didn’t have food. So I see the validity of that point, too.

Poverty makes people invisible, and when you’re poor it can feel like you’re left behind by everyone else in society.

During this pandemic, middle class people and upper class people are panic buying toilet paper and stuffing their pantries full of excessive groceries, they’re using their internet and subscriptions to saturate their minds with high-quality entertainment; buying online tutors for their kids; working out in their home gyms; paying all their bills on time; and so much more.

Meanwhile, poor people living without money are struggling to stay housed; suffering from hunger and poor nutrition; faced with anxiety because of overdue bills; living without healthcare; and all the way around, frequently struggling with overburdened responsibilities undue to their station in life.

To think of all the people living that way right now, you have the power of your survival and I know you’ll stay strong. I see you, and I believe in you.

To the people working to stop the pain of people living poor right now, I’m glad you are working so hard to alleviate the suffering people face in all the ways they are. If you are doing that, thank you for doing what you’re doing. I see you, and I believe in you, too.

Today, I need to do something. The other day I offered all of my services at free or reduced rates to nonprofits, K-12 schools and government agencies. I know I can do more, and I’m figuring out what that is right now.

In the meantime, leave a comment below and let me know what you’re doing and what you think I can do to be of more, better, deeper and more effective service to the world in these times.


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Shelter at Home with Youth Voice

During the COVID-19 Pandemic we’re being asked to shelter at home and socially distance ourselves from our friends, family and coworkers. Young people are suddenly without schools, the basis of many of their social networks, and they are constantly surrounded by their family. This is a new reality that demands adults learn how to shelter at home with youth voice.

Youth voice is any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

I define youth voice as any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, for any reason. There are no limits or boundaries for youth voice because it isn’t up to adults when, who, where, how, what, or why children and youth choose to express themselves. Young people don’t even have to strive to make themselves heard because they’re always expressing themselves. The question isn’t whether youth are sharing their voices; its whether adults are listening to what’s being shared.

While we’re all locked up at home right now. Some of us live with young people. The expressions of children and youth, including their thoughts, ideas, knowledge, wisdom and actions, are still valid and important. I’m concerned with how parents listen to youth voice, and engage youth voice intentionally. Here are some types of youth voice at home.

Types of Youth Voice at Home

Decision-Making—There are two types of decision-making at home, personal and household. Household decisions affect everyone in the home; personal decisions only affect individual people. Youth voice can be shared in decision-making in many ways, including places to go together, family food, decorating, shared activities and household budgets affect the household; Eating, clothing, and bathing are personal decisions. Since young people are members of houses, everything they do can affect every other person in the house, including seemingly personal decision-making.

Feedback—Giving feedback doesn’t just happen from adults-to-children; instead, it happens from children-to-adults and children-to-children. It happens all the time too, whether or not adults are listening or even want to hear it. Youth voice can be shared in feedback given about any subject or activity at home.

Creativity—Young people are constantly creative, whether they are in their own space being personally creative or creating out loud for everyone around them to see, hear, feel, taste or touch. Creativity shows youth voice within houses in all kinds of ways, including music, painting, poetry or knitting, as well as moving furniture, making meals or other expressions.

Learning—Children and youth are teaching and learning all the time at home. The subjects and the issues they’re learning about vary, and include things unique to their home like family history, making food, and constructing walls; as well as things they share with young people around the world, like gaming and tech, creative writing or academic subjects. Young people also learn through teaching their siblings and their parents. Youth voice comes through learning in all these ways and many more.

Problem-Solving—When faced with challenges affecting the whole family, children and youth can be partners with adults in the home to solve problems. Creating opportunities for that collaboration can foster family cohesion and positive belonging for everyone involved. Youth voice can come through problem-solving at home in many ways, especially in day-to-day activities as well as long-term.

Energy—The way people in a house think and feel affects how they treat each other. This treatment sets the household tone and culture, and is a visible factor to anyone within the home. The energy of the house is reflected in the language, attitudes, beliefs and ideals within and among the people who live there.

Recreation—As young people having fun, relaxing and recreation is essential to daily living. Whether its gaming or reading, dancing or bicycling, there are many ways recreation happens. Recreation can share youth voice in many ways, including making decisions and the tone of the recreation, the choice of activities and the people who are chosen to participate.

Consumption—Household consumption is a choice everyone makes all the time, and those choices are a type of youth voice. Whether young people are consuming food, electricity or otherwise, they can make their decisions about consumption on their own, help others in the household make their choices, and partner with adults at home to choose how to consume things.

Communication—The styles of communication in a household reflect youth voice indirectly and very directly. Whether its communication between adults and children or from child-to-child all communication in a household is an expression of countless factors. These expressions can happen through spoken words and unspoken body language; actions by a person as well as inaction; and many other ways. Youth voice is shared in the ways young people express themselves; the topics and subjects expressed about; the timing of expressions; who they are expressed towards and with; and where they are expressed.

Health—Our health, including our mental, physical and spiritual realities, includes our sleep, food, exercise, surroundings, activities and much more. Youth voice is expressed through health in all ways, because ultimately every way a person treats themselves reflects their thoughts, knowledge, feelings, ideas, and wisdom.

Mindsets—Our mindset is the mental framework we approach the world with. Youth voice reflects mindsets, and mindsets reflect youth voice. Young people share their core beliefs, personal assumptions, cultural wisdom and much more through their mindsets.

These are some types of youth voice at home. What would YOU add to the list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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How To Listen To Others

In order to be heard, we have to learn to listen. Listening can be simple, painless and easy; it can also be complex, painful and hard. Either way, we have to learn to listen if we want to get past just hearing what is being said.

This graphic shows how to listen to others by Adam Fletcher
This graphic shares how to listen to others. It is copyright 2019 Adam Fletcher

This is how to listen to others:

  • Open my heart and mind to others
  • Release my assumptions about others and their interest and ability to speak for themselves
  • Make space for others to speak for themselves
  • Be quiet and listen
  • Ensure opportunities for others to speak for themselves always exist in perpetuity
  • Continue always to stay mindful about my voice, my listening and my actions that affect others
  • Be aware of my conscious and unconscious impact on others
  • Step aside so others can speak for themselves
  • Advocate for others to speak for themselves
  • When they are absent, speak for others who cannot speak for themselves
  • Build my ability to listen

This isn’t meant to be completely comprehensive; instead, its intended to hold space for people who want to learn what they can do for themselves and others in order to build their ability to listen.

What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Seeking Solace in Work

Standing in the dark, cavernous sanctuary, I shouted from the stage into the midnight silence of the empty pews before me:

“Man, I come here tonight to call you, share with you, connect with you and be with you, alone as I am, just to talk.”

For the next three hours, I let loose with all the thoughts, feelings, ideas, concerns, criticism, conclusions and questions I could muster. Speaking with my greatest vibrato and whispering in my lowest loud tones, I was excited, nervous, scared and frustrated.

The previous year had been a roller coaster for me. That night, I was the 19-year-old youth director at a suburban church in the Midwestern United States. With little practical knowledge of how to do the job, I ran off of inspiration and enthusiasm, generally winning the hearts of young people with my personality before appealing to their minds with my abilities.

Before that night, I went to college for several months before having to give it up for both fiscal reasons, and simply because I had no idea what I was doing, literally. I worked at this church during that time, as well as running a youth program at another church and working in an independent living skills program for foster, homeless and other disconnected youth.

Out of frustration, a few months before then I’d packed my car full of all my worldly possessions—bed comforter, dress clothes, high school diploma, etc.—and headed off to make a life in New Orleans. I had no idea what I was doing then either, and halfway there my car permanently broke down; the drive shaft separated and went into the oil pan as I drove down the highway. A scrap heap, I sold my car and almost everything I owned to a wrecker for $50. Buying a bus ticket, I continued onward, only to run into rejection, theft, violence and loneliness for the next three weeks. Sleeping behind dumpsters and playing my harmonica on a street corner at the edge of the French Quarter after Mardi Gras, my parents and other adults back home wouldn’t save me, send me money or otherwise help me get on my feet. When my brother finally returned from an overseas deployment in the military, I asked him for help and he sent me a bus ticket. I went back to the city where I lived and took the youth director job back at that church.

Working late into the nights anytime during the week was my norm. I didn’t enjoy the nightlife of the university city where I lived, and I wasn’t really connected to other young people there, so being at the church all the time was comfortable for me.

By that point in my life, I was well aware that I wasn’t a traditionally religious person. My upbringing was punctuated by my mother’s zealous appreciation of Gandhi, who she constantly quoted and whose life she made lessons with. I became enamored with the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. in my teenage years, reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail repeatedly by then. I didn’t read the copy of the Koran I kept that often though, and the Tao Te Ching didn’t make a lot of sense to me then. I constantly listened to U2, though, and that wasn’t a bad leadoff for the spiritual development of the teenage me. Sure, I flipped through the Bible and henpecked my favorite scriptures, too.

I adamantly didn’t believe in the tenets of the faith though, and it was increasingly awkward for me to be working at this church. My job there was to lead Bible studies, teach Sunday school classes and informally counsel the youth there. Many of these teens grew up in the church and were stronger in their faith than me, as well as more determined to grow into their faith. Others were rebellious in ways I had never been, and I couldn’t relate to the struggles they wrestled with.

Oh, and the other part of my job was to co-lead church services with the minister. Once a month I got to deliver a sermon. These parts of the job were exhilarating for me. There was nothing as rewarding as weaving together my favorite Gandhi, King, U2 and Bible quotes with stories from my own life, and an occasional piece of news or other tale I’d picked up, only to have a kind middle-age mother come to me after the service to say she understood exactly what I was saying, or an older parishioner tell me she loved how dynamic I was. As much as I relied on metaphor and analogy, I strove to be understood and found it rewarding when people “got it.”

There were times when I didn’t get it though. Standing at the pulpit in the story at the beginning of this, I was wrestling with the universe as I stood there. That call was purposely Godless, distinctively direct, and purposefully submissive. I didn’t want to think I knew it all, because I felt responsible for the cataclysmic shape of my young life then, and clearly knew then that I just didn’t know what I was doing.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done this kind of midnight ghost preaching. After being invited to talk in many churches during the three years before that, I was (over)confident in my abilities as a speaker.

I share this memory with you to share with you my dream. When I was 15, I participated in an Urban League youth leadership program that included Toastmasters training. From that point forward, I wanted to speak professionally, captivating audiences with magically woven words to enlighten, educate and engage broad messages that flowed magically from my complex mind.

I have had success accomplishing that dream. However, I still feel like my work in this way has just begun, and I’m looking for ways to improve myself, improve my messages, and improve the vision in my heart and mind.

That job didn’t last long after my last midnight sermon. At some point towards the end, I painted a wild image of Golgotha, or Calvary, on the wall of the office I kept there. While I don’t have a pic of it, the image is burned in my mind. I didn’t feel like Jesus or a savior when I worked at that church or preached anywhere. Instead, I often felt like the thief basking in the shadow of greatness, hoping to be forgiven right before my own imminent demise.

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BONUS!

This is a speech given by Adam Fletcher in London in 2019.