A Renewed SoundOut Program

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Challenging Student Voice

Recently I was discussing the latest developments happening in the mainstream education conversation today. Student voice is bubbling up more and more frequently across the radar, with folks ranging from curriculum writers to test makers talking about it. Of course, educators continue to share their thoughts on social media, along with students themselves. This is all very powerful, and a wonderful development to finally see emerge after more than a dozen years on the national circuit promoting student voice throughout education.

Increasingly though, I’m concerned about the direction that student voice is taking. It seems most conversations are intent on tokenizing student voice, minimizing the roles students can play in schools. Last year I released a book called The Guide to Student Voice in order to help shift this conversation and move it towards a more holistic, powerful picture of what students can do.

Re-Launch!

Today, I’m pleased to announce the re-release of the SoundOut Program. Based on a curriculum I developed in 2007, today the SoundOut Program has operated in more than 25 districts across the U.S. and Canada, and has been adapted in Australia, Brazil and the U.K. too. With my new promotion, I’m glad to bundle the curriculum itself in several new ways, featuring new elements and activities, and building new relationships with districts and state agencies around the world.

Features now include:

  • Lesson plans for classes, programs and events
  • Professional development
  • Evaluations
  • Technical assistance
  • And more!

Let’s move student voice further! Check out the SoundOut Program and learn how!

Reflecting on Brazil

In November 2014, the Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas em Educação, Cultura e Ação Comunitária (Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture and Community Action), or CENPEC, hosted me for a weeklong visit to São Paulo, Brazil. As a longtime consultant focused on youth engagement, I have become accustomed to touring across the North America to teach, speak and work with all kinds of diverse communities. However, nothing I have ever done paralleled this trip. Over the course of eight days, I spoke to eight different groups, workshopped with more than 300 youth and adults, was interviewed by several newspapers and television stations, and met with countless educators, activists and policymakers from across Brazil.

CENPEC is a nonprofit organization based in Brazil. Its main goal is to develop initiatives towards improving the quality of public education and promoting civic participation. Focused on public schools, public educational spaces in general and public policymaking, CENPEC challenges inequality and promotes social inclusion. Much of its work focuses on assisting the Brazilian government to build innovative policies for youth, in and out of school. Lilian Kelian, who works with CENPEC, found me from my writing. Here is a little more of that story.

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My learning began as I left Seattle, with Lilian as a kind and patient teacher for the rest of my journey.

During my appearances in São Paulo, I shared experiences and lessons I have learned through the course of my career. I facilitated workshops on youth/adult partnerships for young people and adults there with Programa Jovens Urbanos, a cultural program working in three cities across Brazil. Using interactive activities and working with an excellent translator, I found it challenging to explore the concepts of equity and equality between children, youth and adults. However, the enthusiasm of the youth and adult participants carried me and we had more than a few breakthroughs. The young people shared experiences from their own lives that sounded similar to what I’ve heard in my work across the United States and Canada: Whether inadvertently or on purpose, adults consistently use demeaning language, act in discriminatory ways, and generally treat children and youth in demeaning ways throughout our communities. These participants taught me that the effects of this are felt in schools, at cultural centers, throughout communities, and across Brazilian society.

To say that São Paulo is an enormous city doesn’t quite do it justice. There are 20,000,000 residents of the city, which makes it 2.5 times the size of New York City. Descending into the city, the skyscrapers seem to roll on and on in a never-ending quest for space. After a rushed beginning to my time there, midweek my life slowed down when I was taken on a tour. We went to a low-income suburb on the outskirts called Campo Limpo. The first organization I was introduced to was at the Casa da Mulher da Criança, which houses União Popular Mulheres. Built in a small house, I was shown an education center, a drop-in center for children, a textile center for women in the community, a professional kitchen, a computer lab in partnership with the Agencia Popular Solano Trindade, and a small office for a community bank called Union Sampaio. All of this was crammed into a humble space, and as it was carefully explained to me, it was all driven by the local community—not by government mandate or driven by government funding. I was astonished to meet a community center that was actually driven by the community it served! I also got to explore another cultural center, this one packed with active programming for young people that was happening while I was there. It included a program styled after Theatre of the Oppressed, capoeira and a few other activities. While I was at this second organization, I got to meet a group of youth who worked as program staff in this center. Harkening back to my own experience as a young person, it was energizing to find resonance with young people doing similar work more than 20 years later halfway around the world.

I met many organizations during the week. One of the most impactful experiences I had was learning about The Tree School. The Tree School is one of the most dynamic, engaging educational projects I have ever learned about. Focused on decolonizing knowledge, The Tree School was founded by two organizations: Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program based in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp in Palestine, and Brazilian-based art collective Contrafilé. As I learned about this school, I learned the history of the baobob tree in Brazil and the potential for fully consensual schools that are based on non-hierarchical relationships between adults, children and youth. This will definitely expand my work in school transformation that I began with SoundOut. You can learn more about The Tree School from this pdf.

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My last presentation was at the Seminário Internacional: Educação + Participação = Educação Integral. In this session I was credited with introducing the nation of Brazil to the concept of adultism, which is bias towards adults. Expanding on the ways adultism happens throughout society, I drilled in on schools and youth work directly, exposing some of the ugly assumptions that underlie our well-meaning but poorly informed intentions to teach children and youth. I was paired for this session with Marcus Faustini, an education activist and community organizer from Rio de Janeiro. Talking in-depth about his passionate work with youth in Rio’s flavelas, the audience laughed, gasped and clapped in both of our talks, but for different reasons. I quickly understood that Marcus and I were brothers following different roads towards a common goal, and I admired him, too.

At this same event, I was reminded by one of my hosts about the other time I’d visited Brazil. In 2004, I was invited to present at a conference focused on developing youth polices across the country, on the local, state and federal levels. She explained to me that I had left an impression then as my reports on North American youth policy had been used nationwide to inform the creation of youth involvement policies. I was told that because of my work a decade ago, youth councils, youth voice training programs and other activities are now the norm in several large cities, and they are expanding in more rural areas now. As a consultant, I am used to posing questions and challenging norms to which I don’t get to see outcomes. Suddenly, I was confronted by stories that what I had done a decade earlier made a difference. If that weren’t rewarding enough, the conference moderator announced at the end of the Seminário Internacional that what I shared this time would inform policy and practice for at least another decade. More than gratifying, that it was humbling to think that a philanthropic foundation would invest in me to travel 8,000 miles to teach my philosophies and practices in another language in hopes I would inform work to improve a nation’s educational practices. But to have that investment affirmed at the end of my work there was wholly empowering for me, personally and professionally.

The whole trip affected me this deeply. I felt a deep political affinity to many of the people I met there, an affinity that restored some of the faith I’d lost in the concept of Community. The self-defeating anarchism and alienating capitalistic tendencies I am surrounded by and part of here in the Pacific Northwest frequently exhaust me. In my consulting practice I take great pleasure at working in different parts of the US and Canada, if only because I meet people equally committed to democracy building and genuine social transformation. However, in Brazil that went to a whole different level where I felt a political communion with peers that I haven’t felt in a long time. Restorative experiences are good for anyone’s soul, and mine felt at home.

Learning about some of the radical political action in Brazil re-centered my viewpoint on what people within communities can do to improve conditions for themselves and others. The real meaning of social change soaked through the stories of the cultural centers I visited, the activist art I saw, and the evolutionary practices I saw underway with children, youth and communities. Mostly though, the whole trip reminded me that I am skilled, knowledgeable and valuable to people and communities. I had to travel halfway around the world to see that, and to have that affect me deeply. I am still learning right now, and estimate that I will for a long while.
Instead of another run-of-the-mill jaunt to help summon change across the country, this trip took me to South America in order to take me deeper inside myself. At this point in my career, I can’t imagine a more powerful, positive and restorative experience. Now to get back to work and make something of myself!

 

 

Getting Clear about Meaningful Student Involvement

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Students should be co-learners with adults, and that they should have an ownership over their education.

Why Meaningful Student Involvement?

This far into the current education reform movement (25+ years) something radically different must be tried, and I stand beside the notion of Meaningful Student Involvement. Young people are already and routinely fixing many other problems throughout society that adults have failed at; why shouldn’t they continue to target schools as the focus of their energy? They’re the ones who are most directly affected by the outcomes of schools, and they’re the ones with the largest stake in their own education and the education of future generations of students.

Abdicating Responsibility

I would never, ever call for the abdication of adult responsibility in relationship to student authority. Instead, I believe there is a distinct opportunity for students and adults to work together and redefine the historically didactic, pedantic relationships that define so many classrooms today. Done responsibly, this could revolutionize teaching, learning, and leadership throughout the education system in ways that are utterly necessary in order to sustain and grow our democratic societies. Done irresponsibly, as a lot of homeschooling and unschooling are, and educators merely promote hyper-anarchistic individualism. (Ironically, this is what a lot of public schools are doing today as well!)

Student Behavior

Students “in any classroom go a little crazy” because they’re raised in environments of hyper-sensationalized adult importance, almost wholly disassociated from the respectful responsibility of social camaraderie. The students who do know “how to act right” are those who are raised in genuine community with their families and friends. However, all that is a ruse of sorts: Students don’t “act right” when they act in ways that adults don’t want them to. We routinely invalidate their human experiences in order to squeeze them into our expectations to meet our objectives using our methodologies. If we had truly committed democratic public schools, students would routinely, wholly and knowlingly co-create the learning they participate in everyday. Adults would facilitate that learning, rather than preach and teach it. And ultimately, we would more effectively, more honestly reach every single student all the time.

My Role in Schools

As a consultant, I offer a requested eyeball from outside the classroom and local school that can provide perspectives not available from within. Please don’t minimize my contributions because of my title though; let the principals, teachers, students, and other education officials who I’ve worked with speak for me. Check out my website for some <http://bit.ly/afgoodthings> and my linkedin profile for others.

What Grade Levels Should Be Involved?

As the examples in the article (which you read) illustrate, my research has found students in the first grade who have participated as co-creators of classroom curricula with teachers. I named examples from 1st through 12th grades in the article, and linked to dozens of other examples from across all grade levels. The fact is that students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools. Brain research routinely demonstrates that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. That shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Am I Calling for Student Independence?

Engaging students as partners is by no means solely a call for independent learning, as that is antithetical to the goals of education in a democratic society. Instead, its a call for co-learning, co-teaching, and co-leadership for all students in all buildings all of the time. This is an important distinguishing factor that I tried to illustrate in the examples throughout the article. The case I make for teachers is separate from what I made in this article. Instead, this was written for a general audience made of the public. For a more education-oriented article, you can read a piece I published in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/The-Architecture-of-Ownership.aspx>.

By working with students as partners, adults can continue their roles as teachers and leaders throughout education. Your responses seem like you’re trying to dichotomize the roles of adults and students in schools by painting them as having polar opposite roles. (Note that I never called for students to have more “freedom”, as I think there’s a tyranny to such a notion.) Maybe instead of that, you can envision students and teachers walking next to each other as allies. In many circumstances that embody Meaningful Student Involvement today, students and adults hold each other mutually accountable for the outcomes of their actions. If any party involved doesn’t like what’s occurring, everyone involved is able to address that and working together, take action to create change. Students and adults work together to “set the standards, the criteria, the evaluation of education… set and enforce rules…”, etc. And those aren’t hypothetical situations; they’re happening right now, and have been for more than 30 years. Luckily though, they’re increasing in frequency, and as an advocate, I’m merely calling for them to increase more.

A lot of adults are threatened by Meaningful Student Involvement with a kind of gut reaction. I talked about this once in an interview with Scholastic Administrator magazine. Rather than having those responses, maybe it would be worth studying the idea more closely and truly considering the proposition beyond a short article. My short book is called Meaningful Student Involvement: Students as Partners in School Change.

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.

 

Why Youth Still Drop Out

Dingy water stains stared back at Michael in history class. For the tenth time this week, he was listening to a lecture in order to prepare for a test. He couldn’t take another minute if it weren’t Friday afternoon right before the beginning of summer break. Fortunately, he could make himself wait a few more days before checking out. Next year, well, Michael expected to get a job and not come back to school next year.

After almost 15 years of consulting nonprofits, K-12 schools, and government agencies across the nation, last year I took a position with the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council, or PacMtn, as their youth services coordinator. Hungry to get learn about a different support system for youth, I chose PacMtn because they support young people ages 14 to 24 who are re-engaging in school, training, and the workforce.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with dozens of agencies serving thousands of youth across my region. Meeting young people of all ages, working with seasoned and new youth workers and agency leaders, and learning new insights into youth disengagement and dropout have highlighted my experience at PacMtn so far.

For all these years of consulting, I’ve focused on youth engagement in communities and student voice in schools. I learned a lot through my research and practice, and from colleagues across the nation and around the world. However, I’ve had many new lessons in my current position.

So many people are working so diligently to engage youth in schools, or re-engage them in finishing schools, getting training, or finding employment. So why are youth still making the conscious choice to leave school, leave these programs, or leave jobs? Here are five reasons youth still drop out.

5 Reasons Youth Still Drop Out

  • Youth Are Taught To See Themselves As Failures. Between parents who are too busy or depressed to care, teachers who are too overwhelmed to focus on them, and lawmakers too beholden to give them the supports they need to succeed, many youth are actually taught to see themselves as failures. That comes from the culture surrounding them, including tv and music; schools they attended, including teachers and curriculum; and the social safety net that let them fall to low, low heights.
  • Many Adults Have Given Up On Many Youth. Driven by standardized testing, mandatory evaluations, prescripted youth programs, and byzantine policies, many youth workers, teachers, and others have given up on many of the youth they’re supposed to serve. Instead of believing “youth are the future”, they believe youth are merely numbers to achieve program goals, or ineffective contributors to the economy, civic society, and world around them.
  • Traditional Youth Activities Serve Traditionally Engaged Youth, And Fail Everyone Else. Youth leadership, community service, and even traditional youth empowerment programs actually fail to serve a lot of young people today! Too reliant on youth complacency and obedience, these programs are failing to foster modern thinking, implement accurate strategies, and create successful cultures that engage disengaged youth. This is happening in epidemic proportions in many, many communities, especially affecting low-income and poor youth.
  • Most Adults Expect Youth To Change To Meet Today’s Needs. Rather than acknowledging that the economy is changing, the job market is realigning, and needs and wants are different now than ever before, most adults expect young people to change to meet today’s needs in the economy. This is carryover thinking from the old education model, which sought to mold students into the types of learners teachers were capable of teaching. This is a disingenuous perspective, because the future economy depends on nimble thinking, transformative action, and creative realities.
  • Youth Engagement Isn’t Really The Goal. When most adults talk about youth engagement, they’re actually talking about youth obedience. They want young people to comply with the expectations, values, perspectives, and realities of adults, and not their own. They couch their expectations by talking about activities being youth-led or youth-driven, but in reality, they only make programs for youth who comply with adult expectations or desires. In this way, they seek conformity, not engagement.

These lessons have sunk into my skin slowly, and they smart as they soak in. I believe its our responsibility as ethical practitioners—youth workers, teachers, social workers, and community leaders—to respond to authentic requests for youth engagement. What steps can you take to ensure youth stay in schools and our community programs?

Praising Student Voice

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There should never, ever be a grade, score, or test for student voice.

Reading over a recent report, the researchers suggested a measurement for student voice that accounted for participation and engagement, as well as depth and awareness. I was appalled, if only because of the asinine assumption that there is any student ever who hasn’t shared their voice about schools. That is simply not true.

ANY and EVERY expression of a student about school, learning, or education is student voice. That includes:

  • Students who speak up in class and verbally express their responses to teachers’ questions. They are no more valid than students who never speak up. They are different, but they’re not better than other students at sharing student voice.
  • Students who get into fights, pass notes, or text answers to tests under their desks. They are no less valid than students who wear suits and ties to share grandiose visions for education reform with adults. They are different, but they’re not worse at sharing student voice.

The reason for both of these is that both of them are examples of student voice. So are emails sent anonymously to schools, student government, research conducted, gossip, art murals, students presenting at school board meetings, graffiti on lockers, student leadership programs, student/teacher designed curriculum, students skipping class, and any other expression of students focused on schools, learning, or education.

The Problem with Praise

Adults tend to fetishize students who answer the right questions in the right ways at the right times. We put them on pedestals, place them in positions of authority over other students, and subject them to the utmost pressure to stay on the “right track” in adult-pleasing ways.

The problem with praising student voice is that it reinforces for students that there is a right way and a wrong way for students to express themselves about schools. There isn’t. Instead, there are alternative ways, each of which has a consequence. Currently, we don’t act that way because of adults’ fetishizing “good” student voice.

We do this for familiarity and consistency, because developmentally in the minds and hearts of adults, we yearn for consistency. Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of young peoples’ development, because, while they yearn for the acceptance of adults, they are seeking freedom and independence more.

Alternatives to Praising Student Voice

There is a different way.

The best position for student voice is to be unfettered and actively engaged throughout the school environment. This means that students should have a voice in how curriculum is developed; where schools are built; how teachers are evaluated; where education is evolving towards; when classes happen; why education is relevant; when they graduate; why teachers fail; where they learn most effectively; and so forth. There are so many places on the highest level of education.

However, there are more opportunities, chances for every student voice to be actively engaged throughout their days in school and throughout their lives outside of school, too. Students can share their experiences and ideas throughout classroom curriculum as a matter of good teaching practice, and student voice can be infused throughout classroom management activities, processes, and outcomes too. Building leaders can create particular opportunities for students to teach teachers about technology and culture in ways that position student voice as especially vital for teachers. Teacher coaches can help teachers understand the frameworks for meaningful student involvement that I’ve developed, and parents can engage their children in critical conversations about learning, teaching, and leading education, as well as voting and politics. Youth leaders can teach students about the importance of learning while learning from students themselves, while politicians can actually engage young people about education.

The opportunities for student voice are limitless because student voice itself is limitless. Are we ready to stop praising student voice, and to start engaging student voice in genuine and authentic ways instead?

 

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!