Cycle: Authorizing Students

This is the Cycle of Engagement by Adam Fletcher
This is the Cycle of Engagement, aka the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement, created by Adam Fletcher.

Looking at the core of the word authorizing, 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.

Other Steps of the Cycle

Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut.

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Cycle: Validating Students

This is the Cycle of Engagement by Adam Fletcher
This is the Cycle of Engagement, aka the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement, created by Adam Fletcher.

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. 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, media 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.”
“Why?”
“I’m hungry.”
“Why are you hungry?”
“Because I skipped breakfast this morning.”
“Why?”
“I got in a fight with my little sister.”
“Why?”

“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 on. 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.

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Cycle: Listen to Students

This is the Cycle of Engagement by Adam Fletcher
This is the Cycle of Engagement, aka the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement, created by Adam Fletcher.

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 convenience. 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.

Other Steps of the Cycle

Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut.

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Cycle of Student Engagement

This is the Cycle of Engagement by Adam Fletcher
This is the Cycle of Student Engagement, also called the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement, was created by Adam Fletcher.

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

—John Dewey

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.

The Cycle of Student Engagement 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 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.

Steps of the Cycle

Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut.

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SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum by Adam Fletcher

SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum promo flyer

Order your copy of the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum: Teaching Students to Change Schools today from Amazon.com!

This publication is also available for customization for your organization. Contact me to learn more.

 

 

32 Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement

This is a collection of resources on Meaningful Student Involvement. Please leave your questions, comments, concerns and considerations in the comments section below.

Basics

Examples

Activities

Research

Barriers

Assessments

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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 http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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?

Technology

  • 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 http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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 http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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 http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!