Students Have To Fix Schools

We hear it all the time: American schools are terrible and only getting worse. For more than 25 years, the country has been massaging the egos of educators, administrators, and politicians who think they know what’s best for young people and our country. Bill Gates and countless rich people have tried throwing money at solutions they want to see. Yet none of this has seriously improved our schools, and in some cases, its only made the situation worse.

In the meantime, there are more young people than ever before who are working steadily, progressively to fix schools today. They’re partnering with educators, community members, businesses, and others to move school reform forward and actually achieving real outcomes. Student engagement in school improvement has been shown to have powerful effects on every aspect of learning, teaching, and leadership in education.

Past the hype, beyond the media, and without biased research, evidence shows that when students improve schools, they are creating lasting changes, saving schools real money, and improving learning experiences for themselves, their peers, and younger students.

Five Ways Students Are Improving Schools

  • Students Are Leading Research. In elementary, middle, and high schools across the nation, students researching education. Among countless subjects, they’re discovering student learning styles, identifying best practices in classrooms, and exploring structural changes in learning. First grader students in Cheney, Washington, helped teachers develop curriculum in their classroom to make learning more meaningful for both students and educators.
  • Students Are Planning Education. Budgeting, calendaring, hiring and firing, curriculum designing, and many other activities are happening throughout schools with students as partners. Students are also involved in some district and state education agency activities, and helping elected officials plan more effective schools. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, students have been voting members of the district level board of education for 25 years. In the same district, every advisory, curriculum, study committee and special force task includes students.
  • Students Are Teaching Courses. In all grade levels, students are taking the reigns of pedagogy by facilitating learning for their peers and younger students. They’re also teaching adults! Students are increasingly being engaged as essential teaching partners, and the outcomes are changing learning for everyone involved. In Olympia, Washington, there is a program that gives students classroom credit in return for helping teachers learn how to use complicated hardware and software in classrooms.
  • Students Are Evaluating Everything. Examining their own learning, identifying teachers’ strengths and challenges, exploring curriculum and climate in schools, and looking at ways schools can improve in strategic ways are all ways that students are driving school improvement in their own schools and throughout education. High school students in Poughkeepsie, New York researched their districts budget crises, conducted a student survey on the next years budge, and then analyzed the data and submitted it to the board which used it in its decision-making process. The board adopted it and saved more than $50,000 the next year.
  • Students Are Making Systemic Decisions. Joining school boards as full-voting members, forming student advisory committees for principals and superintendents, and getting onto important committees at the building, district, and state levels, more students are participating in systemic decision-making than ever before. In Stuart, Ohio, students at the local high school have and equal vote in faculty hiring decisions, choosing curriculum, and class offerings.

Between these five categories of action, deep change is happening. However, beyond the expectations of adults, students are working further still to improve their schools. Students advocating for education changes are organizing their peers and larger communities to create powerful, effective agendas that consistently and determinedly transform schools.

In order to broaden, deepen, and sustain these activities there needs to be a systemic, intentional pathway to engage all students as partners throughout the education system. More than a decade ago, I combed research and practice happening nationally and internationally to identify my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Since then, these tools have been used around the world to promote these activities, and to build further beyond many peoples’s expectations. As I’ve written before, Meaningful Student Involvement is, “the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community, and democracy.”

6 Steps To Engage Students As Partners in Fixing Schools

Here are some steps anyone can take to engage students as partners in improving schools.

  • Teach students about learning. Learning is no longer the mystery it once was. We now know that there are different learning styles, multiple learning supports and a variety of ways to demonstrate learning. In order to be meaningfully involved, students must understand those different aspects as well.
  • Teach students about the educational system. The complexities of schools are not known to many adults. Theoretical and moral debates, funding streams and the rigors of student assessment are overwhelming to many administrators, as well as teachers and parents. However, in order for students to be meaningfully involved in schools, they must have at least a basic knowledge of what is being done to them and for them, if not with them.
  • Teach students about education reform. There are many practical avenues for students to learn about formal and informal school improvement measures, particularly by becoming meaningfully involved within those activities. Sometimes there is no better avenue for understanding than through active engagement in the subject matter, and school improvement may be one of those areas.
  • Teach students about student voice. While it seems intuitive to understand the voices that we are born with, unfortunately many students seems to lack that knowledge. Whether through submissive consumerism, oppressive social conditions or the internalization of popular conceptions of youth, many students today do not believe they have anything worth saying, or any action worth contributing towards making their schools better places for everyone involved. Even if a student does understand their voice, it is essential to expand that understanding and gain new abilities to be able to become meaningfully involved.
  • Teach students about meaningful student involvement. While meaningful student involvement is not “rocket science”, it does challenge many students. After so many years of being subjected to passive or cynical treatment, many students are leery or resistant towards substantive engagement in schools. Educating students about meaningful student involvement means increasing their capacity to participate by focusing on the skills and knowledge they need. Only in this way can they be effective partners, and fully realize the possibilities for education today and in the future.

Moving Forward

These aren’t the easiest steps in the world, as many adults and even educators haven’t taken these steps for themselves. However, in these years I have worked hard to share some of the things I have learned and written a number of materials designed to help. Here is a simple list of ways students can improve schools, and a separate list of ways adults can support students fixing schools. I’ve written a number of publications, too, including the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in Schools, the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum, and my latest and easiest-to-read book, The Guide to Student VoiceI also have dozens of free publications available on my website.

Another great advantage today is that several other organizations are working in earnest to promote ideas related to Meaningful Student Involvement. Aside from my program called SoundOut, there are groups like UP for Learning in Vermont, the Student Voice Matters website, and Student Voice Live!, an annual gathering of students talking about school improvement. Evidence supporting this work is growing too. The work of researchers like Dana Mitra and Alison Cook-Sather in the US, Michael Fielding and Julia Flutter in Europe, and the penultimate advocate Roger Holdsworth in Australia is moving all of this further faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Whatever your opinion about schools today, the case is clear that we must engage students as partners. What are you going to do?

Adam Fletcher is the author of several books and a consultant who has worked with more than 200 K-12 schools and districts in more than 25 states and Canada. Sign up for his newsletter by visiting adamfletcher.net.

 

Denying Student Voice

dilbert-student-voice

Since I began researching roles for students throughout education and society more than a decade ago, I’ve found a plethora of student voice haters. These folks are most frequently adults who are longtimers in education before they are “brave” enough to speak out against students.

Their basic belief is always the same: Students don’t know what’s best for them; Educators do. That is, adults in general, educators at large, the academy specifically, and/or the teachers who teach students directly. Their argument is always the same: As the unknowledgable, inept, and incapable recipients of Education’s largess, students have nothing of value to contribute to their learning, to teaching, or to leadership in schools.

Recent articles reflect these positions. In a new piece on Slate, a college professor named Rebecca Schuman wrote a scathing deconstruction of the value of student evaluations of professors. Basically denying the value of their contributions as humans towards society, Schuman emphasized that students are basically flies on horse poop, ranting in a really hipster-ish fashion that, “Ostensibly, [student evaluations of teachers] give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.” She goes on to degrade everything of value in any student evaluation ever, insisting that professorial knowledge trumps student input every single time no matter what.

Schuman’s narrow thinking is indicative of many educators today. Seeing students as tabula rasa, many teachers and professors inside traditional education systems frequently dismiss the value of student voice, juxtaposing their perspectives against students in an A/B dichotomy of Us vs. Them.

A few weeks ago, a reporter for The Atlantic magazine named Jacoba Urist contacted me for an article she was writing about the ongoing Los Angeles student protests led by the powerhouse Innercity Struggle. We talked for 45 minutes about a range of issues, and I sent her a copy of my Guide to Students on School Boards

Jacoba wrote a piece called “Should Students Sit on School Boards?,” essentially propping up the idea with several professors’ opinions, along with my perspective as an advocate. With few opposition perspectives in the article, it was essentially a cheerleading piece. However, it was in the comments (which, btw, are not the same as SETs) that things got ugly—as they often do.

From basic adultism through advanced antipathy towards youth, commenters on the article reflected the blatant disdain that is obvious in so many student voice deniers’ words. They routinely doubt the maturity, effectiveness, and value of student voice. They question the authenticity of student knowledge, the potential of student learning, and the perspectives of students as the recipients of adult-driven education systems. They also rally to the power of adults, calling for increased adult control over students amid smackdowns on student voice.

These denials of student voice represent the narrow self-interest of so many Educators today. Unfortunately, their closed-mindedness is undermining the American education system. Students who grow up in oppressive educational environments grow up to become adults who are disaffected voters, routinely voting down education levies, pro-democracy elected officials, and other bastions of the once indefatigable American Democracy.

I can hear the haters right now, dismissing these brash future voters for expressing their wills against the wills and whims of educators today. Oligarchy be damned: Educators love meritocracy!

Congrats, student voice deniers, for destroying education and democracy for everyone. Surely you have to feel good about that when you go to bed at night, or head off to school in the morning. Good job.

Why No Student Voice?

Going over my Guide to Students on School Boards this weekend, I found an interesting fact: Almost all of the states of the states that have outlawed students on school boards allow corporal punishment in schools.

The 14 states that have laws that don’t allow students to serve on district boards of education Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

The 19 states that legally allow corporal punishment are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This represents a diminutive view of young people in general, resultant of social norms from hundreds of years ago.

High rates of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, exist in these states’ schools as well. Relying on fear and intimidation to ensure social structure is ever-present in these states’ school systems, as well as throughout many of the local communities in these states.

The results of these stringent efforts to systematically disenfranchise students ensures the success of the school-to-prison pipeline that targets low-income students, students of color, and others. This pipeline, in turn, is devolving much of society for the benefit of the notorious one percent.

Ultimately, I believe that states have outlawed students on school boards in order to ensure social division, secure corporate profits, and maintain the culture of fear that benefits historically powerful populations in our society, including the legacy of racism and much more.

To note though, even though other states may not have laws against students on school boards, and others still actually have students there who aren’t allowed to say or do anything significant, the danger is that positioning students on school boards may be largely tokenistic: Without a relevant framework informing their actions, well-meaning adults may simply be placating popular interest without affecting any real change in schools.
Its important to understand that students on school boards is a step towards meaningful student involvement, but not the whole path. That is a much larger framework involving many more activities that can actually engage every single student in every single school all of the time. That’s my grand vision for school reform today, and what I think we should all be working for in schools everywhere.
Luckily, I’ve seen the number of students, parents, educators, and others who agree on that grow each year. We’re heading toward the future, and its coming to meet us in schools right now.

Why Student Voice Doesn’t Work

SO guyMany educators assume student voice is expressed when students make choices. That is correct, although its not the only way.

Instead, consider that voice is apparent throughout the entirety of the students’ being, rather than just the choices educators assign them to make. When a student slouches in class, they’re expressing student voice. When they’re raising their hand and appear engaged, they’re expressing student voice.

Whenever students show up to school, get in fights, turn in all their assignments, text friends during class, conform to uniforms, graffiti in bathroom stalls, or otherwise, they are expressing student voice. That’s because student voice is any expression of any learner focused on education or schools anywhere, anytime. I defined it that way in my Guide to Student Voice, and the reason why is because students are whole people, right now. Their whole being expresses student voice. Whether or not they’re conscious of that is irrelevant.

I think the reality is that educators are searching for meaning beyond the complex/simple or A/B expressions of students implicit in the conception of voice = choice. Constantly listening to student voice is inherently unfulfilling, because it grossly oversimplifies students themselves. We can do better than that!

That’s why I developed a framework for engaging students as partners throughout the education system called Meaningful Student Involvement. It embraces student voice, but effectively repositions them as equitable partners throughout the educational system in order to infuse their voices with purpose and potential, rather than simply hearing what they have to say.

I’d love to hear what you think about that.

Student Voice and Student Activism

One of the main researchers of student voice in the world today is Dana Mitra. Based out of Penn State, she’s done awesome work over the last 15+ years focused on students changing schools, and more. I really admire her writing, her commitment, and the breadth of her studies. She’s taught me a lot.

Today, she posted this video on our Student Voice Researchers and Practitioners facebook group. It details the causes of the massive uprising in Venezuela right now.

In response,  I asked the following questions:

Can we talk about the uncomfortable bridge between student-led student activism for education reform and adult-led student voice in schools? 

From my conversations and workshops, I’ve found that a lot of teachers are very off-put by that connection. Why is that? Is there an unspoken assumption that hidden inside every student is a possible revolutionary? Or that every student activist could potentially lead Venezuela-style protests?

Or does this get to the heart of why there still isn’t a #studentvoice movement throughout North American public schools, en masse? Is it that schools (including but not limited to teachers, administrators, and elected officials) are simply frightened by the prospects of educated, aware, and empowered students?

These questions go further, too, as they reach to the very heart of our society’s relationships with young people today. That’s all for another post though…

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities

Creating a safe and supportive learning environment is vital to engaging student voice.

A great way to do that is through reflection. Reflection is a process of looking back on an experience and deciphering the meaning of it. This post shares some activities to foster that process.

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities
There are several activities facilitators can use to foster reflection on student voice:

  1. Emotional Go-Around. Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
  2. Learning Skits. Split the students into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their learning experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
  3. Visualization. Take your students on an imaginary tour of their learning experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their learning experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their learning experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
  4. Group Banners. Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask students to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience. 
  5. All Tied Up. Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their learning experience the outcome would’ve been different, etc. 
  6. Learning Journals. Ask students to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity Journal include team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
  7. Time Capsule. As students are being introduced to your conference, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to Peace Jam and their school’s projects on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your conference, or anything else relevant to what’s going on. Have the students write down how they are feeling at the start of the weekend, how they feel at different points of their school’s projects (e.g. what they expected at the beginning of the year, how they felt about your topic or conference before this weekend, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole. Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the your conference.
How I Use Them
I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and meaningful student involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection. 

Recently, I facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process. At the beginning of the process, a group of “nontraditional student leaders” showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. So, I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.

Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school’s faculty focused on meaningful student involvement in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators’ minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:

  • What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
  • What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students’ experiences today?
  • Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?

During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again – although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.

Needless to say, after that the group went exactly where I wanted them to, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students’ projections of what their school could become.

Points to Remember
There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice. Here are a few:

  • Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the videogames they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences. 
  • Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory. 
  • Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting. 
  • Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…”
  • Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
  • Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
  • Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.
Each of these points can help make your student voice reflection activities richer and more meaningful. The wealth that emerges can then be used to move students further towards becoming partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools – and if that’s not the point, what is?!?
Learn more about me on my website, follow my pro facebook page, or catch me on Twitter.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Cycle: Reflection on Meaningful Involvement

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Engaging students in roles normally reserved for educators, new opportunities for learning, analysis, and critical thinking emerge. Talking with students about the action they take is an important way to support their ability to make sense of what happens to them. Putting language to experiences is a process we fine-tune over our lifetime, and through reflection we help students develop the skills they need to be successful educators.

How To Reflect
Reflection is an intentional process, and following are some important tips for reflection with students:

  • Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the videogames they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences. 
  • Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory. 
  • Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting. 
  • Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…” 
  • Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
  • Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
  • Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.
No Vacuums
Meaningful student involvement cannot happen in a vacuum. Educators and students should take responsibility for learning through Student Voice by engaging students in conscious critical reflection by examining what was successful and what failed. 
Students and adults can also work together to identify how to sustain and expand the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement by effectively returning to the first step.

Steps of the Cycle


Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut for a brief summary of the entire Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

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

34 Ways to Meaningfully Involve Students

Testing, curriculum, teaching styles, school evaluations… As the banner of student voice is unfurled around the world, we see more young people standing up in unprecedented numbers than ever before. They’re demanding what is rightfully theirs: Meaningful learning, deep school-community connections, and lifelong success on their terms. We’re just see a movement emerge like never before, and must keep pushing for it to grow.

Voice or Involvement?

In the context of schools, student voice is any expression of any student, anywhere, about anything related to education. For a long time, people got that wrong by defining it only as things adults wanted to hear from young people. This still happens, over and over.

Students are routinely wrangled into adult-driven, adult-centered education activities and were only asked about things that adults are concerned with. We heard student opinions about topics like teacher accountability, student leadership, student activities, and student services in the name of student voice for a long time.

However, a lot of my writing, research, and training has focused on listening to student voice that didn’t fit that description. It doesn’t fit because it’s sustained, authentic, learning-connected, and much more. By this definition alone, it is not student voice.

Instead, it is Meaningful Student Involvement. I have found the most vibrant action is happening outside that old spectrum of student voice. Re-examining student voice, expanding it, and showing how we’re seeing breadth and depth happening specifically from student/adult partnerships, Meaningful Student Involvement is a wide-open avenue for school transformation that benefits all students and thoroughly moves learning, teaching, and leadership.

All this shows how students need new roles throughout the education system. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven education systems, Meaningful Student Involvement needs to be infused throughout our schools. This can happen in a lot of ways, and here are a few.

34 Ways to Meaningfully Involve Students

  1. Connect student voice with learning. Make sure that all student voice activities have genuine objectives that are tied to classroom learning. Guide activities as experiential learning, and ensure students learn about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what they learn from it.
  2. Go to where students are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at. This means engaging students as partners in hallways, courtyards, through social media, and other places students are already talking about changing schools.
  3. Teach students about education in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
  4. Help students understand different ways of seeing education issues.
  5. Train adults in schools about the difference between Students as Recipients and Students as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
  6. Help students understand democracy and education, including what they is, how they are interdependent on each other, who is involved, where they fail and when they succeed.
  7. Develop opportunities for students to share their unfettered concerns about their education with adults.
  8. Create formal positions for students to occupy throughout their schools and the entirety of the education system.
  9. Create classes with students as full partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
  10. Co-design realistic, practical school engagement plans with every student in your school.
  11. Assign all students a student mutual mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your school.
  12. Help students plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for schools. 
  13. Engage students in designing and redesigning classes that serve them and their peers.
  14. Encourage nontraditional student leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
  15. Allow students to become active, full partners in school budgeting.
  16. Give students positions to become regular classroom assistants and facilitators. 
  17. Partner together students to form facilitation teams that lead classes.
  18. Acknowledge students teaching younger students in lower age groups with credit and other acknowledgment.
  19. Co-create professional development with students for adults about issues that matter to them.
  20. Assign students to create meaningful classroom evaluations of themselves.
  21. Partner with students to create evaluations of classes, curriculum, facilitation styles, school climate, and educational leadership.
  22. Train students how to evaluate educators. 
  23. Create opportunities for students to lead school committees, meetings, and more.
  24. Create positions for students to participate in district boards, school committees, and other education system-wide activities.
  25. Give students on district boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
  26. Create enough positions for students to be equally represented in every school committee and meeting.
  27. Facilitate all education activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including students.
  28. Help students create and enforce policies throughout the school.
  29. Partner with students in school personnel decisions.
  30. Work with students to organize public campaigns for school improvement.
  31. Create opportunities for students to join all existing school committees as equal members.
  32. Present school data and information so students understand why and how education can and should change.
  33. Position students to educate adults throughout the school community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them. 
  34. Encourage students with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns.

Research-Driven Action


The most effective practices are those that move beyond student voice and become Meaningful Student Involvement. No longer satisfied with tokenizing students, the roles of students are transforming roles throughout education. Schools are engaging students as partners in school change, implementing what I’ve coined as Meaningful Student Involvement over the last decade. In this capacity, students are becoming researchers, teachers, evaluators, researchers, decision-makers, and advocates throughout the education system.

The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free here on my blog and on the SoundOut website, free.

Check those out, and see my website for info about me!

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

Cycle: Taking Action

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Moving from rhetoric to reality, taking action is a substantive way to demonstrate the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

When Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” he was not speaking in a passive sense. Instead, he was calling anyone who is committed to making the world a better place to take direct action immediately. 
The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement embodies that idea by creating an active process that educators can use with students, or that student leaders can use with each other.

Moving Forward Meaningfully
Strengthened by the validation from educators they trust and empowered by the authorization of learning and positioning, students can move forward to take action and make change happen. As change agents, students can affect many different outcomes.

  • People. Students can affect their friends, their families, their larger communities, and people around the world. 
  • Processes. They can transform the processes they are part of, including Systems of Care, education, social services, and juvenile justice. 
  • Places. Students can have positive impact on the places they occupy, such as their homes, schools, places of worship, and government agencies.

This action can happen through methods such as service learning, which connects meaningful school improvement activities to meaningful learning, and place-based education, where students apply powerful lessons about the places they live to real-world scenarios going around them at present. 

Participatory action research, or PAR, puts students in the position to move from being the objects of research to being the researchers. In PAR, students identify the background learning they need to know about a topic; conduct activities to help refine their topic; develop research and evaluation; assess their findings; identifying solutions to the challenges they have identified; and conduct projects to overcome those challenges.

Forms of Meaningful Involvement
Action can take many different forms, including engaging students in leadership and governance in formal school improvement activities, as well as learning, teaching, and leadership activities throughout schools and the entirety of the educational system. 

Ultimately, when educators promote Meaningful Student Involvement through action, they must be prepared to support students experiencing increasing and appropriate amounts of self-determination throughout their communities. 
Action must focus on real world issues such as organizational funding, program design, or issues outside of Systems of Care such as overcoming the stigmatization of those receiving mental health care services. Effective, culturally relevant organizational structures that support this action will have rich environments for students and school improvement.

After Change
When asked what makes them feel engaged, students often report that they want action. Educators often say that Meaningful Student Involvement happens when they listen to students. Working around the Cycle can lead everyone involved to success, demonstrating the effectiveness of following this pathway. 

The part of the process that supports the connection between action and listening is reflection.

Steps of the Cycle


Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut for a brief summary of the entire Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

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

Cycle: Authorizing Students

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement

Looking at the core of this word, the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement insists that educators provide students with the opportunity to author their own stories. This means being able to speak the truth, create our own myths, and learn the lessons life shares.

Educators often take for granted our ability to do these things however, whenever we want to. Students do not have the same privileges. Instead, students are routinely subjected to educator expectations for their learning, including what they learn, how they learn, where they learn, and when they learn. 
Meaningful Student Involvement requires that we relinquish some of that power by actively finding out from students what they think they should learn, how they should learn, and so forth.

Controlling Authority
Educators also control where and how student voice is listened to. When a young person looks upset, stands up, shouts, and storms out of a meeting, the automatic reaction of educators is often to seek to punish the student for this behavior. However, that does not acknowledge that this behavior may have been a valid response for that particular young person. The thing said or done immediately done before their reaction may have been very threatening or harmful. Authorizing students means giving them the room to say what they will, how they will, where they will – whether or not it is convenient to educators can be completely irrelevant.

How To Tell Your Story
There are many ways educators can authorize students. Here are two.

  • Positioning students to be able to share their ideas, actions, perspectives, knowledge, and abilities. This could be as low-key as creating ground rules that acknowledge the needs of students, such as getting up to stretch their legs when they need to or calling for a “fun break” when they need one. It could be as grandiose as designating half the positions on a nonprofit board of directors as full-voting student members. Both of these authorize students in different ways with the same outcome of fostering Meaningful Student Involvement. 
  • Learning about the things that matter to students is a powerful form of authorization. While it is true that you cannot make anybody learn anything they do not want to, once educators cross the hurdle of interest they have the obligation to enable students to learn uninhibitedly about the topics that matter to them. This can happen through skill training, knowledge-building activities, or by simply providing access to the tools they need to teach themselves, such as a computer connected to the Internet. 
Challenges to Student Authority
Challenges to authorizing students abound. One persistent barrier may be funding: supporting students as they attend meetings can include transportation costs, feeding them lunch or dinner, and staff time to ensure preparedness and follow-through. 
However, a wonderful aspect of the Cycle is that it is not contingent on money; instead, educators can vary their actions according to resource availability. If an organization is not committed enough to identify and obligate funds to support student committee members, educators who want to engage students can adjust their response to a no-cost alternative, such as developing an online blog where students can share their opinions about committee decision-making. 
Other barriers to authorizing students exist, and should be appropriate acknowledged. They can be approached much the same way though, with the knowledge that adjustments at this point will be revisited at other points in the future as the Cycle keeps turning.

Moving On
The process of authorizing students can seem very empowering. Without the next part of the Cycle though, much of the progress made so far can be minimized, or even irrelevant in their lives and in the world around them.

Steps of the Cycle


Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut for a brief summary of the entire Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

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