Meaningful Student Involvement at Work: Monument Mountain Regional High School

“The most important thing about your question is that you actually want to know your answer.” The Independent Project is a school within Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Principal Marianne Young sought to, “Create a school that allows young people to be completely invested and to move every kind of human being through the same gate.”

Watch this video by Charles Tsai to learn more, and share this post with your friends and networks. More people need to learn about this project, based in a public high school and funded by a public school district. Powerful examples of Meaningful Student Involvement need to be shared, and labelled for what they are.

Learn more from our project site focused on student voice at SoundOut.org.

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

Teaching Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement, or MSI, is a model for school improvement that strengthens the commitment of students to education, community and democracy. MSI re-envisions the roles of students in equitable partnerships with adults throughout the learning environment. It promotes student engagement by securing roles for students in every facet of the educational system and recognizes the unique knowledge, experience and perspective of each individual student.

I began promoting this approach to schools in 2001, when I worked for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and wrote a simple Idea Guide. After founding SoundOut, I published a series of booklets on Meaningful Student Involvement in 2005.  In 2007, I piloted the SoundOut Curriculum with ten schools in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. The basis of the Curriculum is the MSI Learning Process. Facilitated with high fidelity, it has shown to be extremely effective in integrating my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement in schools. Tthe program has been used in almost 300 middle and senior high schools since 2007, vibrantly and successfully engaging students as partners throughout education.

Recently, there has been a growing amount of interest in teaching students and educators about Meaningful Student Involvement. If you are one of these folks, you might find the following information useful.

Recently, I wrote a simple summary of MSI. Here is a very basic article that I wrote for Educational Leadership magazine that summarizes the approach. Following is a powerpoint that I made focused on teaching Meaningful Student Involvement. Here‘s a separate powerpoint. Here’s more information on the roots of my work.

As you know, I have written a lot more about the topic and you can find more on the SoundOut publication webpage. To learn more about the concept, you can also find interviews I’ve had with District Administration magazinethe ASCD Whole Child Blogcast, and Northwest Education magazine.

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

Teach Students About The School System

One of the main components of Meaningful Student Involvement is ensuring that students have a working knowledge of the education system they’re participating in. Whether they’re kindergarten students or high school seniors, when it comes to education, every student should be continuously developing a working understanding of where they are at and what they are doing there.
This learning doesn’t need to, shouldn’t, and can’t necessarily happen all at once, either. It should be a constructivist journey that extends across the educational experience of all learners. There are some essential learnings that all students should know.

Here are essential lessons for every student to learn in schools about schools:

  • There is a current system for educating young people, and they are part of it;
  • Grade levels and student grouping, e.g. elementary, middle, and senior high schools;
  • Grading, testing, graduation, and dropping out;
  • The ways curricular topics work together to form a liberal arts education;
  • The relationship between classes, schools, districts, state education agencies, and federal education departments;
  • Individuals in the education system, from individual students to teachers, principals, superintendents, governors, state education leaders, legislators, and federal leaders;
  • Connections between graduation and life after high school, e.g. college, work, and income levels;
  • The relationship between public schools, basic education, and the democratic society we live in.

In learning about the education system, students will build their knowledge, comfort, and ability to operate within that system. More importantly, they will become informed participants, which can allow them to become informed partners.

This is one of the first steps in engaging students as partners throughout the education system, which I call Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at soundout.org

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

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.

Notes

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!

51 Ways to Tokenize Student Voice

With the increased interest in student voice—which is any expression of students about learning, schools, or education—tokenism is bound to happen. Tokenism happens whenever students are in formal and informal roles only to say they have a voice, instead of purpose, power, and possibility. Without that substance, student voice is little more than loud whisper into a vacuum. 

Today, adults tokenize student voice and students tokenize student voice. This article explains how.

Following are 51 ways to tokenize student voice right now. The topic is explored at the end, and there are some resources.

51 Ways to Tokenize Student Voice

  1. Student voice is seen and treated like a special activity that only fits in a certain place at a certain time.
  2. One particular student is asked over and over to participate in adult activities.
  3. Adults discuss student voice without talking to students. 
  4. Students are treated favorably for sharing student voice in a way that adults approve of, while students who share student voice in disagreeable ways get in trouble at school.
  5. Adults consistently ask specific students to speak about being a student in school meetings or at education conferences.
  6. Student voice is only listened to for fixing specific issues in schools, instead of addressing everything in education.
  7. A school club will do programs to specific students, without letting those specific students do programs for themselves.
  8. Adults hold a celebration dinner for the school and invite 10 students to join 1,000 adults.
  9. Students are only asked about topics that affect them directly, rather than the entire school body or education as a whole. 
  10. Students are not taught about issues, actions, or outcomes that might inform their perspectives activities.
  11. Adults tell students they have a voice and give them the way they are expected to express it.
  12. Student voice is isolated on issues seen as student-specific challenges like school colors, dance themes, bullying, and technology.
  13. Adults install specific students in traditionally adult positions without the authority, ability, or background knowledge adults receive in those same positions.
  14. Adults constantly tell students about their experiences when they were students. 
  15. A single student’s busiest times of year revolve around the education calendar—outside regular student activities—because they’re attending conferences, meetings, summits, and other education activities that require adults to invite them.
  16. Adults don’t tell students directly the purpose of their involvement in school committees or education conferences, except to say that they are The Student Voice. 
  17. Students are told that sharing their voice is as good as it cans get.
  18. Adults control who hears, sees, or communicates student voice.
  19. When students walk into a meeting, every adult knows there are students attending without knowing their names, where they’re from, or what school they attend.
  20. During a meeting adults expect one student or a small group of students to represent all students.
  21. Students or adults perceive that students are being tokenized and thereby undermine students’ abilities.
  22. Students are treated as if or told it is a favor for them to participate in decision-making.
  23. On a panel, on the Internet, or in a meeting, students are given little or no opportunity to formulate their own opinions before speaking.
  24. Students are not taught about the democratic purpose of student voice.
  25. Adults invite students to share their knowledge, ideas, opinions, and more, and then ignore what they say.
  26. One student speaker is invited to talk at an education conference, at a school board meeting, or in an Internet space like Twitter or a Facebook group.
  27. Students who attend an education rally are singled out for their attendance.
  28. Adults only invite students who are not likely to assert themselves, make demands, or complain, to adult education meetings and activities.
  29. Student voice is treated as unique, infallible, or is otherwise put on a pedestal by adults.
  30. Adults take students away from regular classes without giving students any recognition in the form of credit for their learning in education activities. 
  31. Adults choose articulate, charming students to join education activities.
  32. Students are given representative roles that are not equal to adult roles in education activities.
  33. Adult/student power imbalances are regularly observed and not addressed in classrooms and schools, while student voice banners and programs happen in other times.
  34. Adults are not accountable to students in education activities.
  35. Adults refuse to acknowledge the validity of student voice they disagree with.
  36. Students are punished when student voice activities don’t meet adult expectations.
  37. Schools use student voice for some issues, and ignore it regarding others.
  38. Adults in schools take pictures and videos of students without listening to what they have to say.
  39. Adults seek out one, two, or ten students as the most popular in their school to represent student voice.
  40. Students are not given the right to raise issues, vote, or share their unfettered opinions.
  41. Student-led school research is used to back up adult problem-solving without engaging students in problem-solving.
  42. Nobody explains to students how they they were selected for an activity.
  43. Adults allow students to talk on their school’s facebook page or twitter account and not at school committee or district school board meetings.
  44. Adults interpret and reinterpret student voice into language, acronyms, purposes, and outcomes that adults use.
  45. Students become burned out from participating in too many traditionally adult-exclusive education activities.
  46. Students are not seen or treated as partners in the education system by adults.
  47. Students think its obvious they have a lack of authority or power or that their authority is undermined by adults.
  48. Adults don’t know, state, or otherwise support the purpose of engaging student voice in the public education systems of democratic societies. 
  49. Students are limited to sharing their voice on issues at the local building level, not in district, state, or federal activities.
  50. Students don’t understand which students they are supposed to represent.
  51. Students are asked to create a representation of student voice that never leaves the classroom or education program they’re in.

Exploring Tokenism

When adults appoint students to represent, share, or promote student voice, they are making a symbolic gesture towards young people. This step is generally meant to increase or demonstrate student engagement in topics adults think they need to be heard about. It can also be meant to appease student and adult advocates and stop people from complaining.

When students specifically seek to represent, share, or promote student voice, they are generally seeking a portion of control over their personal educational experience. In schools, this can look like joining student government, starting a student voice club, or holding a protest after school or at a school board meeting.

Unfortunately, these approaches to student voice actually reinforce adultism in schools. They do this by reinforcing adult power and highlighting the inability of students to actually change anything in education without adult permission.

Tokenism happens in school policy and through activities in education every day. It is so deep in schools that many students and adults never know they’re tokenizing student voice, and students don’t know when they’re being tokenized. Students often internalize tokenism, which takes away their ability to see it, and adults are very invested in it, which takes away their ability to stop it. It is important to teach students and adults about tokenism in schools and how it can affect them.

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

You Might Like…

Stop Calling For Student Voice

  • Students tapping their pencils on their desks, texting answers to tests back and forth, and throwing pencils into the ceiling tiles… 
  • Answering questions when asked, participating intently in classroom discussions, and having focused small group conversations… 
  • Teachers integrating students’ stories from their own lives into classroom curriculum, students teaching each other about complex concepts out of class, and students providing solicited critiques of teachers to improve the style, form, and substance of classrooms…
  • Fighting in the hallways, passing notes during class, smoking behind the school building, and skipping class to go to the movies…
  • Students giving testimony about cell phone usage at school board meetings, researching the effects of the school to prison pipeline, and rallying their communities about school funding issues…


ALL OF THESE are student voice. They happen every day in schools, at all grade levels, and with all kinds of students. While some are warmer and fuzzier than others, and while each of us wants to see some happen and not others, all occur at some point every single day.

Last week I called for adults to stop just listening to student voice. Instead, we need something more than that. When done alone, listening to student voice is merely a pacifying activity designed to drown out the din of 100,000,000 young people surging through the veins of the education system yearning to become powerful, effective learners.

What all students in all schools everywhere need is Meaningful Student Involvement, or MSI. MSI embodies the deliberate re-envisioning of the entirety of the education system in order to integrate students as partners in learning, teaching, and leadership.

MSI moves beyond student voice through the pragmatic, intentional integration of students as partners throughout education. calls teachers- the frontline of all schools- to the carpet and demonstrates practical, pragmatic processes they can use to move beyond listening to student voice. It insists that administrators- the working backbone of all education- to stop doing to students what they can do with students. It positions parents as partners with their children and calls the community to task by showing how they can support real learning beyond volunteering and donations.

Finally, and most importantly, it stops selling students short by saying that their words are enough- because they’re not. Instead of giving the keys to the car to the 16-year-old and telling them to teach themselves to drive, MSI opens the hood and shows students how the engine runs. It strategically teaches them the skills and knowledge they need to become mechanics throughout the education system, as well as designers, operators, owners, attendants, and ultimately, drivers. MSI shows emphatically that students themselves should drive education, the entirety of it, with adults as partners.

Stop calling for student voice, because its already been done before, and its already there. Our schools need Meaningful Student Involvement.

Other posts from this series include:

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

How to Get Past LISTENING To Students

Schools must get past listening to students. Its a starting point, but as I’ve taught with my Cycle of Engagement for almost a decade, its just a start. As ethically responsible educators and advocates, we have a responsibility for getting past listening and towards action. Find out how in this post. 


Do you want to transform schools with students? Awesome! Listening to them is a starting point, but its only the beginning. Following are five steps to student engagement in school improvement.


Step 1: Listen to Students. Teachers, families, counselors, and other adults have a direct stake in the health and well-being of students in schools. However, the most important partner is often the least connected: students themselves. Connecting students as partners and hearing their voices, at par with other partners, is essential. Adults must hear students’ experiences throughout schools; their ideas about improving schools; their wisdom about creating effective schools; and their beliefs about learning, teaching, and leadership throughout the education system. Not only are they are essential to effectively engaging students, but also every other partner in school improvement. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote that educators must learn to “speak by listening;” school reform opens the door for adults to demonstrate to students that they are our priorities.

Step 2: Validate Students. The historical structures of schools require people in positions of authority to give permission to students, parents, and others who wish to help improve schools. This does not always mean saying “yes;” instead, it is important to sometimes say “no” or “maybe,” and always to ask more questions. Inquiry is acknowledgment, and it builds relationships and allows teachers, principals, and others to connect with partners across the board.

Step 3: Authorize Studnts. Sometimes the straightest path to creating lasting, effective school improvement is the one that looks wiggly. To authorize is to give students permission to tell their own stories, and partners want that permission. They need the knowledge and the positions that will allow them to effectively change schools.

Step 4: Take Action with Students. Students aren’t the only ones who needs to see action in school reform. With demanding modern schedules, families and community members want to hear more than just words—they want to do something. However, one of the points of the Cycle of Engagement is that action does not happen in a vacuum; instead, it has to have context. The other parts of the Cycle provide that framing.

Step 5: Reflect with Students. Reflection allows all partners to look back on what they have done, make meaning from it, and apply what they have learned to the next rotation of the cycle. An easy framework for reflection is:

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what: What happened?
  • So what was the point of that?
  • Now what do we do with what we have learned?


Keep in mind that these different parts are a cycle though, so as they come around to completion, we use our reflections on learning to re-inform the process of listening to students and other partners.

Discover powerful roles for students and ways to move from listening to student voice towards Meaningful Student Involvement at SoundOut.org!

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

(Mis)Using Student Voice

Student Voice, which I define as any expression of any learner in any setting focused on education, is a burning hot buzz phrase spreading across education circles today. Teachers are latching onto student voice to infuse it throughout their curricular practice; school evaluators are engaging student voice to measure school performance; education policy-makers are using student voice to rationalize radical decisions. However, student voice can be used and misused in many ways.


Ways to Misuse Student Voice

As soon as adults determine what student voice should be expressed about, they may be tokenism. Funneling, narrowing, focusing, or otherwise trimming the breadth, depth, or purpose of student voice poses the risk that it doesn’t genuinely reflect the attitudes, opinions, ideas, actions, knowledge, or beliefs of learners about education. This happens anytime adults ask students to express themselves about a specific topic in education, including bullying, academic achievement, school reform, or dancing on the roof. Any of this can be qualified as tokenizing student voice.

Tokenism happens because adults expect learners to represent themselves and all students on specific issues that adults want to hear about. It displaces the actual opinions, wisdom, ideas, and knowledge students have about schools and replaces it with conveniently chosen, adult-guided thinking. It does not respect student voice for what it actually says, instead insisting that it only speak to what adults in schools want to hear about.

Another way student voice is misused is when its used as decoration for adult beliefs. Adults make choices about schools and then use student surveys, speeches, ideals, and actions to shore up their choices. Posing students around adults at speaker’s daises, having student panels at education conferences, and putting students in suits to share their thoughts in front of school boards are some of the ways that adults use students as decorations, misusing student voice.

This is misuse because it invalidates anything substantive student voice might present. Instead, it only allows learners to be props for adult beliefs, reinforcing the old adage that “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Old world thinking, this couldn’t be more false today. Young people have the ability to make their authentic voices known in dozens of ways across the Internet and in real time that adults never had access to when we were young. Yet we still treat them as if they don’t. This disjuncture doesn’t serve anyone, and is severely damaging our schools.

The last popular way I’m going to highlight to misuse student voice is through manipulation. Adults force students to share their expressions. Faced with losing academic credit, acceptance of their peers, or the favor of adults in their lives, learners are sometimes forced by adults to share student voice. That pinching of students’ genuine interest in ensuring they are heard is insidious, even if its well-meaning. Making sure that learners fit adults’ expectations for student voice shows students that the authentic ways they reveal their thoughts, beliefs, ideals, and wisdom aren’t the “right” ways to be heard. This can encourage them to change their minds in order to fit the molds presented in order to get the grade or be accepted.

Manipulation is wrong because it teaches learners that student voice shouldn’t be heard without reward or punishment. It demeans their basic humanity by robbing students of their innate opinions, inherent knowledge, powerful actions, and secure wisdom that as adults we can only benefit from. Instead, it positions them as consumers of schooling, as people who are incapable or undesiring of having their voices heard simply because they have a right and the ability to have their voices heard. Schools, particularly public schools, have the responsibility of being incubators of democratic society, and manipulating student voice actively undermines that responsibility while taking away the rights of learners.

Beyond Misuse

The way to make sure student voice isn’t misused is to pay attention to motivation. Adults don’t often ask themselves, “WHY would students want to share their voices?” Beyond grades, adult approval, or other forms of manipulation, why would students want to express their thoughts about education?

Perhaps even before that there is another thing for adults in schools to consider: Students ALWAYS share their voices. The seventh grade students fighting behind the building after school? They’re sharing their opinions about schools. That tenth grader with a Sharpy marker who runs out in the hallway after class and writes, “Ms Jones SUX!” on the lockers? He’s giving feedback about his teacher. The girls texting answers to the test, the bullies picking on loner in the locker room, and senior skip day are all student voice, because they all share student expressions about education. They aren’t convenient for adults, because they aren’t always predictable, presentable, or precocious enough for us to present to other adults in order to justify ourselves and our actions in schools. But they are real.

In the same way those cringe-inducing actions are forms of student voice, so is the engagement students who consistently show up in class, intellectually and emotionally. So are the students who bring their concerns about their school to the principal or the school board, and the ones who appeal the decisions made in appropriate ways. The students who created their own evaluation tool for teachers? They were sharing student voice, as were the ones holding a rally outside city hall for more funding for schools. Students who used school computers to make a school newspaper and generate a student survey were sharing student voice too.

Adults throughout education can learn to embrace student voice in many ways. The most valid way of all is to change the ways we interact with learners every single day. My proposition for Meaningful Student Involvement re-positions students from being passive recipients of adult-driven schools to becoming complete partners throughout the entirety of the education system, from classroom to hallway to office to boardroom. This will allow all learners to genuinely, wholly, and authentically share their voices. Meaningful Student Involvement is the only way for adults to stop misusing student voice. Learn more at the SoundOut website.

Other posts from this series include:

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

Hope and the Moral Dimensions of Teaching

“The schools are failing, the schools are failing!”

Empty rhetoric about public education keeps filling newspapers here in Washington state and across the country. For more than a decade, or a hundred years depending on how you count, detractors and retractors, extractors and segregationists have been claiming that the cornerstone of American democracy and cultural globalism are faulty and only getting worse.

In the meantime, generations of students have been raised, launched, and lived through this so-called failure. The media has portrayed all of us, the products of these so-called failing public schools, as insolent, apathetic, and largely irrelevant minus our capability to produce and consumer according to their want and desire. We have defeated these shackles though, more and more in succeeding years, to become the powerhouses of social ability. Rather than failing, we are thriving. Rather than withering, we are bursting forth with the positive powerful possibilities of a future unimaginable to those who’d keep us from succeeding.

Last night I met with a muse of mine, the spectacular Donnan Stoicovy. Donnan’s the Lead Learner (aka principal) at a Student Voice Super School in State College, Pennsylvania. Her hard work has included tirelessly supporting her teachers and their students. Their countless struggles against a public education system hellbent on squashing any consideration, let alone practice, of democracy in schools are a model for all of us. Meeting with her and Bernard Badiali from Penn State reminded me of all the reasons why our work in schools is absolutely crucial to the critique, survival, rebirth, expansion, and re-examination of democratic education in America.

While we were talking they graciously introduced me to John Goodlad’s “Moral Dimensions of Teaching“:

  • Enculturating the young in a social and political democracy. Foster in the nation’s young the skills, dispositions, and knowledge necessary for effective participation in a social and political democracy
  • Providing access to knowledge for all children and youth. Ensure that the young have access to those understandings and skills required for satisfying and responsible lives
  • Practicing a nurturing pedagogy (the art and science of teaching). Develop educators who nurture the learning and well-being of every student
  • Ensuring responsible stewardship of schools. Ensure educators’ competence in and commitment to serving as stewards of schools

Considering my own experiences of the previous week and anticipating my coming weeks, I can see how Goodlad has managed- again- to provide us with an essential template for our work. I urge my colleagues and friends in this work to consider these Dimensions in their own practice, and think about how they apply to the individual and collective futures of our work. The urgency and agency apparent in these deceivingly simple Dimensions can help us in countless ways, particularly as we attempt to counter the popular Henny Penny narrative that’s actively inculcating young people to believe their failures while pacifying corporations’ narrow self-centered interest in ending support for public education.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


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

Students Speak Out on Ideal Schools

A student presenting at a SoundOut Speak Out event.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by the work of Charlie Kouns and David Loitz through Imaging Learning. Working in a handful of locations across the country, they’ve been having powerful conversations with students about what, where, why, when, and how learning happens best for them. I really admire their passion, and I think what they’re doing is important work.

Following is an activity from the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum that I first wrote in 2007 after running a series of SoundOut Speak Outs across the country. From my conversations with Charlie and David, I think the Speak Outs were similar to the Imagining Learning series.
This activity can be used in a variety of settings, and provides a structured, replicable process teachers, youth workers, and others can use to get students thinking about their ideal schools.

Feel free to use it, and if you copy it into anything printed please give me credit. CommonAction is always available to facilitate a session focused on this activity, and many others in our tool belt. I’d also (easily, gladly, and strongly) recommend that you consider hosting an Imagine Learning session!

Activity: Ideal Schools 

  1. Break students into teams of 4-8 for groups of 8 and larger. 
  2. Give each team a large piece of paper and provide each group with a collection of creative materials, i.e. markers, pens, color pencils, etc.
  3. Ask each team to draw the outline of a school in the middle of the paper. They can make it any size, depending on how important they think the school building is to learning. 
  4. When their outlines are complete, teams should work together to draw an image of their “ideal school” without using any words. Encourage students to fill the paper with characteristics or abilities that an ideal school would have. For example, they might draw big doors on the school to indicate the ability for students to learn outside the building, or fill the rest of the page with other places students can learn. 
  5. Ask each team to present their creation. As students report out, create a master list of characteristics as each team reports back. 
  6. Reflect on the activity by asking:

  • Which characteristics do you think are most important? Why?
  • Are these realistic? Why or Why not? 
  • (If in a broke-up class) How do you feel about the ideal school the other teams came up with?
  • Do you have any concerns?
  • Would you add anything? 

Keep the drawings hanging around the classroom to remind students what they are striving for.

I believe these types of conversations are an entryway to Meaningful Student Involvement, creating vital views of what students think about schools. However, the conversation shouldn’t end there. If you’re interested in learning more about what’s next, check out the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum or check out our education catalog


CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


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