|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.
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.
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.
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.
Steps of the Cycle
|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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“I want to eat a slice of bread.”
“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
|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.
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.
|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
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.
— C Nelson-Goedert (@CNelsonGoedert) November 7, 2013
When adults are talking rude to young people, they show patronizing superiority. Many parents, youth workers, teachers, and others are not aware of how rude they are towards children and youth.
Most adults would be shocked if young people were as rude towards them as they are towards young people. When we’re confronted by a brave youth, we usually deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).
However, even well-meaning adults can say things to youth with good intentions that come across as rude. Because of their past experiences, social conditioning, peer influence, and other reasons, most youth are really hesitant to share their real feelings with adults. Because of that, most parents, teachers, youth workers, and other adults who work with youth may never know how they talk towards youth.
Here are eight rude things adults often say to youth. Whenever you say them, its going to sound rude.
8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People
Whatever the case, just beware that if you’re working with young people, you probably sound rude today.
1. “I’m not a creative youth like Lavonia here is, so she should do that!” I really doubt that Lavonia loves slogging through mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – as a youth council member or youth staff, it’s her job and not yours, so she does it. She takes pride in what she does too, and does it well. So don’t call her out in front of other adults and youth as a “detail” youth, as if that’s her job as a youth, and then congratulate yourself for being an adult who knows the “big picture”. A similar condensing bit of “praise” for youth is something like, “Hey, let me introduce you to Juan – he’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (snicker, wink).” No, he doesn’t really. You’re an adult, and you run things. Juan is just doing his job as a youth council member, stuff he’s supposed to do. Don’t pretend otherwise.
3. “It’s for your own good.” That makes adults the only people who can decide what is good for young people? Children and youth should be expected to have a serious, meaningful role in determining their “own good”.
4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world….” So what world are you saying the young people your are talking to are from? You might want to take some time to hear young peoples’ “theory” out and check your assumptions at the door – the children and youth around you might be more real than you.
5. “We’ll look into that,” “I’ll think about that,” or “You’ll have to work that out on your own.” Noncommittal answers dismiss youth and imply they aren’t worth the time, honesty, and effort of adults. Also, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. Ultimately, that’s your job – to coach and guide the young people around you.
6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…” Never assume you know what young people are feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.
7. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “When I was your age…” Well, maybe young people do understand you right now, and just don’t agree with you. Try finding out why and you might learn something. Taking this approach creates a line of separation between young people and adults and invalidates what children and youth are experiencing right now.
8. “Kid” or “Homie” or “Sweetie” or “Dude” Many young people prefer to be called by their first names – but its always a good practice to ask individual people what they’d like to be called.
MORE RUDE THINGS ADULTS SAY TO YOUTH: (thanks to all the folks who contributed on the ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE Facebook page!): “I brought you into this world, and I can also take you out!” ”You’re so smart for fifteen!” “When are you going to grow up?” “Don’t touch that, you’ll break it!” “As long as you are in my house, you’ll do it!” “You’re being childish.” “You’re so stupid (or clumsy, inconsiderate, etc.)!” “Go to your room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “She doesn’t understand anything.” (about a baby) “You are too old for that!” “You’re not old enough!” “Oh, it’s only puppy love.” “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about.” “What do you know? You haven’t experienced anything!” “It’s just a stage. You’ll outgrow it.” “Go to your room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “Act your age.” “Children should be seen and not heard.” “What do you know, you’re just a kid!” “Do as I say, not as I do.” “You’ll understand it someday, just you wait.” “It’s my house and you’ll follow my rules!” ”Calm down,” “You’re just a kid,” “Grow up!” “These kids are a form of birth control!” “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin!’” “Did you just do what I saw you do?” “Because I said so.” “Someday I hope you have a kid and she’s just like you.” “Don’t get smart with me.” “You’ll do it and you’ll like it.”
Ground Rules to Stop Rude Adult Talk
One way to set the stage for clear and comfortable communication between young people and adults is to set ground rules when working together. Here is an example of some commonly used ground rules:
- Speak for yourself
- No put-downs
- Take responsibility for your words, your action, and your learning
- Expect unfinished business
- Listen to others and to what you are saying, too
- Show respect
- Have fun
- You have the right to pass at any time in group discussions or activities
Take Action to Stop Rude Talk
- Create Space – Its important to create environments where young people and adults feel comfortable asking questions and being themselves.
- Stop Hesitating – Make sure everyone knows they can stop conversation and ask questions at any point. Make it a norm to inject in the conversation when its appropriate.
- Be Diverse – Celebrate the variety between youth and adults, and among youth, and among adults. AND try to always talk in ways that are understood by everyone in the group.
- Body Language – Be aware of body language and facial expressions. If you are speaking, pay attention to how other people are reacting and ask questions, if you need to.
- Be Comfortable – Use language you are comfortable with. Don’t use jargon or slang just to fit in. Just be sure you’re sensitive to others in the group, no matter what their age.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How about you? What does rude speech sound like to you?
- Do you speak in a way that everyone can understand what you’re saying – young people? adults? people who speak English as a second language? others?
- Are you aware of the views and perspectives of the young people and adults in the room?
- Do you talk with others respectfully? Do you listen carefully to what they have to say?
- If somebody is speaking with words or in a way that is confusing to me, what should I do?
- When is it okay to use slang or jargon?
Want to do more? Check out my latest book, ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, available now from Amazon.com.
Olympia, WA—Every parent, teacher, and youth worker knows they aren’t as effective as they could be, but often aren’t sure why. Using willpower to force children and youth to comply, even the most well-meaning adult uses curfews, takes away toys, and bribes with rewards.
There’s hope. ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, by internationally-recognized youth expert Adam Fletcher ($19.95, Createspace Publishing), uses powerful analysis and introduces language related youth discrimination to show readers where, how, and why this problem affects them every single day.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE details how society routinely discriminates against young people by forcing adult will, implementing rigid age-based policies, and encouraging negative attitudes towards children and youth. Diving deeply throughout communities, Fletcher exposes cultural assumptions and details structural systems that keep young voices from being heard. He also shows how social injustices such as racism, classism, and sexism are related to discriminating against the young.
“We don’t like to hear it, but every adult discriminates against young people,” Fletcher explains. “Understanding and accepting that reality is the really the first step to creating a more just and equitable society for all people.”
Like many parents and youth workers, Fletcher wondered for a long time why more young people weren’t powerfully, purposefully engaged throughout their own lives. After a decade training youth, Fletcher began to piece together the massive, society-wide patterns of discrimination against young people. When he began finding language throughout psychology, sociology, and youth work describing different parts of this discrimination, he saw a blanket literally smothering children and youth in every corner.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE is the only modern book designed to explore this reality in depth. What better way to become a better parent, more effective teacher, or more positive role model than addressing your own biases?
With this book, Fletcher hopes adults will, “develop new perspectives of young people to open positive, powerful futures for all people, instead of just a few, so that instead of times getting impossibly hopeless, they show that another world is always possible.”
To set up an interview or to request a review copy, contact Adam Fletcher at 360.489.9680 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE
by Adam Fletcher
The book is meant for people who work with middle school and high school youth. If you work with traditional youth leaders, you’ll learn how to move that work forward. If you work with nontraditional youth leaders, you can learn how to engage them in positive, powerful activities that can change your program or organization.
- The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide
- By Adam Fletcher
- Price: $11.99
- Order from Amazon.com or request the book from your local bookseller.
“The Youth-Driven Programming Guide is a must read for youth workers in all settings. Adam does a tremendous job of getting straight to the point with a clear message in a concise format that even the busiest of youth workers will be able to make time to read. We operate a Parks & Recreation related youth program that provides multiple youth after school program sites, late night events, a series of dances, and a Youth Commission. This guide is the newest required reading for all volunteers and staff within our program.
—Paul Simmons, Parks and Recreation Director, Cheney, Washington
“I work with groups of young people in Preston, Lancashire, England to have a real voice in decision making in our Impact Youth Groups, co-working with young people training to be Youth Workers and my work in schools and justice projects. The book is an excellent informal education tool in planning your work young people, supporting the work you, developed with young people in a simple understanding education tool, creates fun in learning, while young people can be given a real voice with support, in their social education learning and decision making experiences.”
—Terry Mattinson, youth worker, Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom