Cycle: Validating Students

It is as if students occupy a dichotomy in society where their voices are either completely worshipped or totally dismissed, and worse still, sometimes fully repressed. Mainstream media frequently place student voice on a pedestal, highlighting the “outrageous” things kids say or making the opinions and ideas of students into the flavor of the day in advertisements.

At the same time, mainstream news sources regularly demonize students, labeling students as “super predators” who are apathetic about society, incapable of complex mental functions, and perpetually failing in school and throughout society.

Really Valuing Students
Truly validating what students have shared with educators requires that educators get past their preconceived ideas of what should happen and respond as authentically and genuinely as appropriate, and as possible. 
Validation alone can provide very rich rewards for students who say they do not feel acknowledged by educators. It provides a fertile ground for educators to show students that they see them, they matter, and that student voice affects them.

In a variety of institutions throughout our society educators rarely want to know what students think, feel, act, and understand. When it does happen, well-meaning educators often seem stuck in their assumed role of sage advice-givers and secret knowledge-holders. 

In addition to those behaviors, other educators automatically assume that validating students means just saying yes to them all the time. This type of permissiveness is disingenuous at best, as it can actively disable the ability of students to respond to adversity and challenge, and incapacitate their natural survival mechanisms that promote resilience and adaptation. 
More Than Yes Or No
This means validating is more than just saying, “Yes.” Sometimes it means saying, “No.” Sometimes it means asking inquiring questions. One way to get to the core of any statement is to ask 5 Why’s. 
It could look like this:

“I want to eat a slice of bread.”
“I’m hungry.”
“Why are you hungry?”
“Because I skipped breakfast this morning.”
“I got in a fight with my little sister.”

“I spilled her bowl of cereal on her by accident. She was wearing her new outfit, and I was in a hurry to get food from the kitchen, so I rushed by her in there and bumped her by accident. I was running late for a meeting at school where there’s a boy I really want to talk to…”

…And so forth. The 5 Why’s can provide a useful “drilling” technique in situations where you really want to know what students are thinking. There are other techniques, too. However, blasé or indifferent attitudes defeat student voice. Students frequently intuitively sense when educators do not authentically care about their perspectives. The idiom, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to,” applies here.

Listening to students and validating what they have said is just the start to the Cycle. The next step is authorizing.

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 Learn more at!

Cycle: Listen to Students

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Listening to students is something that anyone who has regular contact with students thinks they do every day. Asking students when the last time was they actually felt heard can reveal some different opinions though. Listening is the first step in the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Separately Students and Adults
This happens for many reasons, not the least of which being that we routinely separate students from each other, and we keep students away from adults in their communities. Classrooms, student programs, and extracurricular activities all demonstrate how this type of separation occurs. 
Keeping different age groups in different areas throughout different times of the day effectively implants and reinforces the inability of adults to empathize with students, and causes students to stay away from one another. In turn, people throughout education and across society can lose the ability to serve as appropriate role models, engaged educators, and purposeful co-creators of the situations and solutions we operate in all of the time. 
Really Listening to Students
The first step to alleviating this painful reality is listening. When educators listen to students they demonstrate their commitment to the children they serve. When students listen to educators they show the power of personal connection by defeating the negative stereotype about their inability to relate to people who are older than them. Listening is not just for one type of students, either: while streams often seek out the path of least resistance when running downhill, educators to students do not have to do the same. This is the matter of seeking “convenient student voice” versus “inconvenient student voice”. Convenient student voice happens when educators seek students who say what we want them to, how, when, and where, and why we want them to.

Unfortunately, this does not usually turn out well students who have been historically disengaged throughout society. These students frequently share inconvenient student voice, whether through actions such as fighting, graffiti, or engaging in other negative behaviors; or through resistance in which they refuse to engage in activities designed to engage them.

Ways to Listen to Students
Challenge this negativity through deliberate activities designed to listen to students:

  • Personal conversations, such as one-on-ones, email exchanges, phone calls, texting, personal counseling sessions, and instant messaging.
  • Small groups, including group meetings, Google groups, student panels, classrooms, and small training sessions.
  • Large groups, like social networking websites, conferences, student forums, and large training events.

Challenges to Listening to Students
It is easy to see how manipulation, tokenism, and alienation can defeat these avenues for listening to students. Some of the other challenges to listening to students include:

  • The belief that “Kids are better seen and not heard.”
  • The presumption that students are already listened to enough.
  • Filtering, in which educators reword what students say to “make it make sense” to other educators
  • The practice of picking on the voices that we want to hear, rather than those we do not.

In order to engage students these challenges have to be addressed. There are several ways to overcome them. However, the most important thing that educators can do is continue on the Cycle. The next step is validating.

Five 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 Learn more at!

Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Introduction to the Cycle
Listen, validate, authorize, act, and reflect. These are not radical concepts unfamiliar to seasoned educators. However, while it is true that educators intuitively go through these steps with students every single day, it can be challenging to keep them in focus while going through the daily functions of running a classroom or school.

This cycle is designed to illustrate a clear process everyone can use to engage students. The most important consideration here is to consider student involvement as more than student voice. It requires more than simply hearing, checking-in, or talking to students. Meaningful Student Involvement is deep; going through the cycle gets to the depth.

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement provides a pathway educators can use to create sustainable connections with students. It can seem very familiar, and that is one of the advantages of using the Cycle for learning, teaching, and leadership.

The five steps acknowledge both the simplicity and complexity of truly substantive relationships between students and the educators who work with them. This tool can serve as both a planning guide and as an evaluation tool that anticipates what lies ahead and looks back on what has past. Following is an examination of the different motions of the Cycle.

Five 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 Learn more at!

SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum by Adam Fletcher

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32 Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement

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

The Meaninglessness of Tabula Rasa

Within the boundaries of the education system people share a thousand purposes for its existence. Some insist on the purpose of schools being to create better citizens, while others think its more productive workers. Others want to promote values and culture, while some want to build a secure future. Some people mix it all together, insisting school does all of that and more.

Within that messy blur, there’s a lot that goes missing. Unfortunately for students, most of them are missing an understanding of the purpose of their education. They are literally schooled within a vacuum, being taught as if they’re blank slates without their own conceptions for learning, teaching, and leadership today. The reality is that adults who believe that are completely misinformed. Those who work in schools and force students to attend schools who actually believe otherwise but practice this way are totally disingenuous.

The Blank Slate
These same teachers, principals, school support staff, and parents who believe that students are merely tabula rasa generally miss the point of education altogether. They are the ones who aspire to have and keep the things that are prescribed in life. Their roles in life don’t hold meaning for them beyond a paycheck or position, and a place to spend their time during the day. When they do get home, time they could spend with their loved ones is spent in recovery from standardized abuse, or at least numbing the boredom of life. These people anesthetize the pain inherent in their lives with television and alcohol, video games and sex, the Internet and food. They live controlled lives. Their cycles of living without purposefulness makes them question the meaning of life, let alone the meaningfulness of schools.

For a decade, I’ve been urging schools to consider the meaninglessness of being a student in schools today. Forced to sit in rows, learn facts through rote memorization, exhibit their mastery through standardized tests, and behave according to adult standards under threat of expulsion or imprisonment, schools are routinely harangued for what they inadvertently teach learners. Compliance, obedience, and authoritarian submissiveness are often cited as silent assassins of creativity in young people today.

This treatment as blank slates makes students yearn to identify the meaning and purpose in their lives.

Realities Students Face
Leaving seven to nine hours in school settings every day in order to return home where their parents are beginning daily recuperation from their workaday lives, young people face the prospect that after thirteen years of their daily conditioning they get to face the same realities their parents do, day in and out. However, devoid adult role models who live in fully meaningful, purposeful ways, children and youth are left to the devices of popular culture, mainstream media, and socio-economic norms in order to find their way in the world.

This forms a vacuum in society, a void where young people and adults lose their bearing on what matters to them, what matters to their families, and what matters to the world community as a whole. Entire generations have been raised without the prospect that there is a better life for everyone beyond the shallow materialism and hollow sentimentalism propagated by television shows, pop music, and junk magazines. Brought up to love conformity and honor authority, entire social classes reject the notion of transformative living or revolutionary thought.

Restlessness & Urgency
The value of meaningfulness is that it harbors within it an inherent hope, a prospect that all things can be better in all ways. Finding meaning means naming purpose, finding belonging, or identifying pathways for living in any of its myriad forms. Meaningfulness is, by its nature, a restlessness and a particular urgency that insists that life isn’t merely what is right in front of us, but something more, something deeper—or more so, that life is what it is, and that there is meaning in that, too. That’s the awesome thing about meaningfulness: it’s entirely up to each and every individual to determine what the meaning is.

Schools should aspire to nothing less than helping students discern the meaning of learning for themselves. This lives up to American author Ralph Ellison’s assertion that, “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” We can easily echo that sentiment and insist that learning is to be lived, not controlled; and education is won be continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.

And that’s the value of meaningfulness—the calling, the insistence, and the uplifting reality that everything means something. This stands directly opposed to the drab prospect that nothing means anything, and is the reason why I think we should teach meaningfulness today.

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

Ontario Students’ Visions for School

Another spectacular example of Meaningful Student Involvement comes from Ontario’s spectacular SpeakOUT program. Part of the program, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Student Advisory Council, shared this graphic today to show their ideas about the future of education.

Taken from the graphic above! See the image to understand how these phrases relate to each other!

Students Imagine the Future of Ontario’s Education System
Future! Our place, our vision, Ontario education

Safe Space

  • Happy people learn better!
  • Teachers should be open to talk to!
  • Remove biases
  • More humor – Ha ha ha!
  • Safe to ask questions!
  • Why would I want to learn from someone who doesn’t want to learn from me?


  • More help for everyone online!
  • More games – “Gamify learning” – More games instead of textbooks
  • All school documents and resources online
  • Teach music… sports… props…
  • A place to LISTEN to music!

Individualized Learning
  • Every student should have an IEP
  • Teach a student how to teach themselves!
  • Should be allowed to fast forward academically in high school!

Tailored Learning
  • Promote curiousity
  • Less homework
  • More time in class
  • Street smart!
  • Community building
  • Teach students to become active citizens

Nurture Creativity!
  • Deep mentors
  • Discovery based learning
  • More one on one
  • “What do you think?”

Practical Application
  • “How does this apply?” “Ah, I get it!”
  • Why?
  • Tell students why they’re learning something!
  • Re-evaluate curriculum – should focus on life skills
  • Out of classroom learning

Learn about the spectacular work going on in Ontario from the Minister’s Student Advisory Council webpage. Thanks for sharing this on SpeakOut’s facebook page, Jean!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

In Modern Schools…

Today, I finished a series of thumbnails for the SoundOut facebook page. They emphasize the research-driven results I’ve discovered over a decade of researching the premise of Meaningful Student Involvement. Here’s the monograph I wrote called Meaningful Student Involvement Research, which focuses on some of those findings, and following are the thumbnails. What do you think?

In modern schools ASSESSMENT happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools BELONGING happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools ENGAGEMENT happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools LEADERSHIP happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools LEARNING happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools PARTNERSHIP happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools SUCCESS happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools TEACHING happens through Meaningful Student Involvement.

As always, I’d love to talk about this work with you! Drop a line and let’s get in touch…

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

Different Approaches to Students Changing Schools

Activities focused on Meaningful Student Involvement and Student Voice reflect two distinctly different routes to engage students in changing schools. Meaningful Student Involvement holds student voice carefully and respects its sentiment while honoring its sensibilities and enriching its possibilities.

Student Voice is any expression of any student anytime related to education. 
  • Doesn’t require schools to change
  • Doesn’t require students to change
  • Doesn’t require adults to change
  • Doesn’t necessarily change education

    Meaningful Student Involvement is a process for engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community, and democracy. It focuses on:
    • System-wide action for school improvement
    • Deep student/adult commitment
    • Whole school transformation
    • Deep learning for students and adults
    • Expanded opportunities for students and adults
    Want to learn more about Meaningful Student Involvement and Student Voice? Visit the SoundOut website for stories and examples, tools, research, resources, and more, and read my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement for details.
    Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

    Is Meaningfulness Arbitrary?

    Today, I’m thinking about the design of some new materials. The graphic above was intended to illustrate some of the lows and highs in student involvement activities. Its for any activity that seeks to involve students beyond simply listening to student voice.

    The challenge of this visual is to present all these positions in a way that IS NOT linear or sequential. As it looks right now, this chart implies a step-by-step progression, as if activities start with manipulation and end with equitable student/adult partnerships. They don’t. All these positions are often co-occurring, happening at the same time in a flurry of opportunities that are dependent on each student, each setting, and each part of an activity. Sometimes an activity can occupy several slots on the Measure.

    Similarly, activities that seem completely powerful and deep to adults can seem utterly tokenistic and belittling to students themselves, and vice versa. Activities can feel punishing or opportunistic to students in the same grade from similar socio-economic backgrounds with common academic achievement and identical resource access.

    This brings me to some larger questions. Is meaningfulness arbitrary? Does it all depend on the people, the places, and the activities? Or is it only through the culture, the climate, and the feeling of what’s being done?

    Share your thoughts – is the meaningfulness of student involvement completely arbitrary?

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