8 Keys to Student Voice in Learning

Student Voice, which is any expression of any student about anything related to education and learning, can be infused into all classrooms to help students learn better.

It can be easy to misbelieve that Student Voice is just about letting students have a say in what, how, why, when, or where they’re taught. That is not true. Student Voice is any expression of students. Here are some points to guide your understanding about Student Voice and learning.

  1. All Student Voice Matters. 
  2. Every Learning Relationship Matters.
  3. Students Aren’t Incomplete. 
  4. Total Responsibility Is Shared. 
  5. Students Know Things. 
  6. Equity, Not Equality. 
  7. It’s About Learning, Teaching, AND Leadership.
  8. Student Voice Requires More Than Just Talking.

Want to learn more? Check out The Guide To Student Voice by Adam Fletcher, available now on Amazon.com. In a simple, easy-to-read format, its detail all the major details anyone needs to know about student voice, including what it is, when it happens, who its for, why it matters, and how to engage students in student voice work. 
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Students Can POWERFULLY Change Schools!

The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum: Teaching Students to Change Schools transforms learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools! For the first time, its available on Amazon.com for YOU to order now! Find it right now here.

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

SoundOut Student Voice Tip Sheet

Here’s the new graphic version of the SoundOut Student Voice Tip Sheet!
For your own PDF of this tip sheet, contact us with the button above.

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

How to Solve the Biggest Problem in Schools

As a pathway towards enfranchisement of students as full humans, student voice in schools is one avenue. Others include youth engagement throughout society, including civic, economic, cultural, recreational, and familial activities. Further still, the creation of advanced structures of support for young people, including training, funding, and personal support programs, will help take society there.

More specifically, there are many ways that students and adults can move schools towards transformation. Here are a few different takes on this from my blog:

Ultimately though, the most powerful step any of us can take is to transform the ways we see and treat children and youth every single day. If every one of us changed our own attitudes and behaviors, we would see the complete engagement of young people emerge as a new cultural norm within a generation. More importantly though, we would continue to influence and motivate succeeding generations of children and youth as they change the world they live in.

I believe there is no greater action we can take.

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

Solving the Biggest Problem in Schools

Meeting the challenge of having one group of humans routinely treat another group as less-than-human simply because of their age is a vexing one. However, before we can meet that challenge we should envision what the answer is to the question we’re trying to solve.

Here is my vision of students as fully human:

Seen and treated with the rights, responsibilities, and capabilities of a human, all young people are routinely and meaningfully involved throughout the entire education system, with more than their voice as a placeholder and no less than their sustained lifelong engagement in learning as the outcome.

Walking into an average school, the physical appearance, daily operation, and every outcome will be wholly transformed by engaging students as fully human. Rather than stuffy hallways packed with hyper-frenetic students seeking momentary relief between classes, children and youth of all ages will be welcome to come and go at will throughout environments designed by their minds, too.

Recognized as self-driven learners from their earliest years, all students everywhere will be in charge of their own learning, and because of that, every single student will be completely motivated and surely empowered to initiate, drive, fulfill, and complete education to their own satisfaction.

Attendance in schools won’t be limited by age, either. Rather, students will be able to select the learning environment that best suits their desires. Adult learners will co-mingle with young learners as both learn to value the other in new ways.

The hearts and minds of adults will continue to expand as well. Our ability to more effectively engage young people in equitable ways will become invaluable as social change moves more rapidly. People who currently practice and teach the practices of student engagement and voice will be mainstreamed in professional development across all fields of industry, economy, governance, education, human services, and beyond. The frameworks of Meaningful Student Involvement will be seen as essential components for successful learning far beyond schools, as the role of the learner becomes ubiquitous throughout all sectors of society.

When students are engaged as fully human, educational management will be transformed as well, and necessarily so. Given the ability to vote from birth, the voices of students will suddenly be valued by politicians in a new way. Those who did ran early programs to engage youth voice will be awarded with immediate youth support, while others will be required to earn the trust of students. School board members, state, territorial, and federal parliament members, mayors, all elected positions will suddenly be held directly accountable to students themselves. This will lead to a kind of authority that completely transforms educational management in a variety of ways. Pushing for the type of participatory engagement they routinely experience on the Internet today, children and youth will insist upon active democratic processes that reflect their best interests. School bureaucracies will be forced to reinvent their activities to suit the expectations of the elected representatives that control their budgets, who in turn will be voted in by young people.

The outcomes of these systems will be as radical as their transformations. Academic achievement will no longer be the measure by which school performance is metered. Rather, students will come to understand that personal engagement throughout their own lives and within the larger world they’re members of is more important. Schools will devise systems for measuring self-sustainability, personal growth, and social well-being. Their actions will be valued throughout the larger society, as the health of democracies suddenly spikes upon these transformative measures. Ultimately, economic growth, civic engagement, social contributions, cultural inheritances, and peace and nonviolence will be seen as the outcomes of the experience of schooling.

These are some of the outcomes of seeing, treating, and experiencing students as fully human. The next question is how we get there from here.

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

The Biggest Problem in Schools Today

The biggest problem in schools today is actually one that’s vexed adults in education for almost all times.
The problem is the reality that children and youth—students, the actual reason why schools exist—don’t do exactly what adults want them to, when they want them to, where they want them to, how they want them to. 
The main reason this happens is that adults don’t recognize that all children and youth are fully human right now. They are not adults-in-the-making or halfway people; they are full humans right now.
Seeing them as other than that is par for the course in schools. It is why curriculum was formulated how it was for thousands of years, and necessitates the attitudes, actions, and perceptions of teachers every day. Everything in schools is predicated on this perception of young people as less-than-fully-human.
This perception allows adults throughout the education system to treat students as the passive recipients of education, rather than active partners. After generations of this treatment, many students have lost their imagination and the ability to see themselves contributing equally to the teaching and leadership roles throughout education, rather, accepting that learning means sitting quietly and accepting whatever adults dole out. Without a vote, without authority, and without equitable relationships with adults, students do not have the right to dissent, free speech, or self-control. Ultimately, they surrender their humanity in schools every single day. 
Society is driving young people towards a different reality than has ever been experienced before. Fully capable of accessing the world through technology and social networking, students are less reliant on adults-as-overseers than ever before. Instead, they are making long strides towards securing a new relationship with adults on their own terms. 
However, rather than allowing society to descend headlong into the furrows of anarchistic, faux-American self-reliance, ethically responsive adults and young people have to activate their own hands and hearts in order to create the change they want to see in the world. 
I believe the location for this work to start is in schools.

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

An Intro to the Student Voice Movement

Around the world right now, there is a lot happening in education. There are struggles over accountability, challenges over funding, attempts to improve equity, fights against racial discrimination, and much more. However, when the question of student voice enters the picture, education advocate Michael Fullan may have said it best: “When adults think of students, they think of them as potential beneficiaries of change… they rarely think of students as participants in a process of school change and organizational life.”

The student voice movement is an international wave that’s sweeping throughout education right now. There are more individuals, organizations, classrooms, school buildings, education leaders, and parents committed to student voice than ever before. This movement largely intends to challenge what Fullan observed.

It’s working.

Like never before, teachers and students are forming student/adult partnerships within classrooms that are vital for success. They are understanding that when students are engaged as learners and leaders throughout education systems, schools become successful.

More districts, state and provincial agencies, and federal governments are infusing student voice into decision-making and policy developments. Building leaders have also recognized the importance of student voice by actively engaging students as partners in formal and informal efforts to improve schools.

While all that action is underway, the profiles of individual student leaders are rising in the mainstream media as they sound out about school reform and educational transformation. Nonprofit organizations and consulting firms have sprung up globally to support all this action, and even politicians and education publishers are starting to get on the bandwagon.

Here’s a breakdown of student voice throughout education.

  • Roles Affected By Student Voice: Students, Teachers, Parents, Building Leaders District Administrators, District Leaders, School Board Members State/Provincial Administrators, State/Provincial Leaders Federal Administrators Researchers, Advocates/Activists, Independent Consultants, Trainers Education-Focused Nonprofit Staff, Other Nonprofit Staff, and Others.
  • Places Affected By Student Voice: Classrooms, hallways, extracurricular spaces, building leadership, whole schools District administration, district boards of education, district leadership, Provincial/state leadership, Provincial/state administration Federal administration, Federal leadership United Nations, Local/national/international education-related nonprofits, and homes of students and adults in education.
  • Activities Affected By Student Voice: Learning, Education reform, Classroom teaching, School evaluation, Testing and assessment, Policy-making, Research, Curriculum, Classroom management, Dropouts, and much more!

Student voice happens all over the place, all the time. Focused on education-oriented topics, Student voice includes conversations related to Student engagement, Student participation, Meaningful Student Involvement, Student activism, Student-led organizing, Student-driven education transformation Student/adult partnerships, Students as allies, Students as partners, and Adult allies in schools.

There are threats to this movement. As Michael O’Loughlin wrote, “Teachers must resist the temptation to glamorize student voices, and recognize that the multiple voices that students bring to the classroom, while potentially possessing some elements of resistance and transformation, are likely to be imbued with status quo values.”

Building off O’Loughlin’s sentiment, along with other practitioners and my own work, I have identified a series of threats facing this movement, too, simply labeling them as whitewashing, showboating, pedestaling, heroism, lowballing, and sockpuppetry. These are all present, all the time, and are rearing themselves more as student voice increases in its vibrancy, vitality, and visibility.

There are many organizations involved in this movement. Roger Holdsworth started Connect magazine in 1979 to promote student participation in Australia. The University of Cambridge Economic and Social Research Council started a program on consulting pupils about teaching and learning in the mid-1990s. Here in the United States, I founded SoundOut in 2002 to promote a vision for student voice throughout education that I call Meaningful Student Involvement. Youth On Board started working deeply with across the Boston Public Schools around the same period, and TakingITGlobal was started around then. In the last decade, organizations have risen across the North America, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere focused on student voice too, including the English Secondary Students’ Association, r.u.MAD, Imagining Learning, Student Voice Live, and the Student Voice Initiative.

The California Association of Student Councils also operates important programs for the state’s education system, including the Student Advisory Board on Education (SABE) and Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education (SABLE). In Vermont, the unique UP for Learning (formerly YATST) does powerful work to build the capacity of students and schools for improvement. Inside the education system, there are several efforts too. They include Washington State’s former Student2Student program, Alberta’s SpeakOut project, Boston’s Student Advisory Council, Ontario’s Student Voice Initiative, and several others are happening across North America.

The future of these efforts is grand and wonderful, and calls for connectivity like never before. Recently, I re-launched The Student Voice News, a monthly collection of information related to the student voice movement. There are also collections of information from the Huffington Post and The Nation, as well as the important Student Voice Research and Practice group on Facebook. Several social media sites have important collections too, such as Bethan Morgan’s Scoop page. I continue to blog about student voice as well.

I would love to hear about the work YOU are doing to promote the student voice movement- please share in the comments section! Also, share this article with your networks and let’s GROW THE MOVEMENT further!

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

Impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement

When considering infusing Meaningful Student Involvement into school change, many educators want to know what exactly is going to happen. The following chart shows the major areas that MSI impacts. Send me an email if you’d like to see the research supporting each of these outcomes.

Type of Action

Major Areas that Meaningful Student Involvement Impacts




Student  as researchers

Examine interest in subject, engagement in class, efficacy of methodology

Analyze student involvement, policies engaging partners, Activities of improvement activities

Compare perceptions of student voice, effects of training, attitudes towards achievement

Students as planners

Design program, learning projects, classroom layout, personal learning goals

Develop new policy recommendations, staff monitoring plan, school improvement process

Create classroom behavior standards, student/teacher partnership activities

Students as  teachers

Use student/adult teaching teams, student-centered methods, multiple intelligences

Provide professional development re: student voice, student-led training for teachers

Model student-driven learning throughout education, student voice in all school activities

Students as evaluators

Assess self, peers, teachers, curricula, classes

Critically explore policies and Activities absent of student voice

Contrast student/teacher relationships, respect throughout school

Students as  decision-makers

Engage in classroom management, resource allocation, and consensus

Develop positions on all committees, reception mechanisms for adult leaders, committees for students only

Authorize students to mediate, create spaces for student interactions, facilitate student forums

Students as  advocates

Embrace student interests and identities in program planning

Encourage broad representation by nontraditional students

Provide “safe spaces” and reception for self- and group-advocacy

The SoundOut website has featured examples of what each of these look like for almost a decade. Find them at http://soundout.org/examples.html
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

NEW Student Voice Evaluation!

Download the 2013 Meaningful Student Involvement Deep Assessment from SoundOut. I am making it FREE on my website, so check out adamfletcher.net for the goods!

Meaningful Student Involvement Deep Assessment

Look for The Guide to Student Voice, available NOW exclusively on Amazon.com!

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

Issues Addressed by Student Voice

Planning the winter dance, setting the price for Valentine’s Day candies, and deciding the new school colors are decisions some schools allow student voice to influence or even drive. However, Meaningful Student Involvement amplifies student voice much further than this. There are literally countless issues throughout the education system where engaging students as partners can be crucial for success, and yet rarely happens.

This SoundOut class is at work addressing issues in Miami.

There are countless issues that schools are facing and that are being discussed by people working in schools as well as those working for school change from outside schools, including politicians, community groups, and the media. Focused exclusively on school transformation, Meaningful Student Involvement catalyzes student/adult partnerships for education change. Students can be partners with adults to address these issues and many more through both convenient and inconvenient student voice. The following list is just a beginning of what can happen though.

  1. The Goals of Education and Student Success. Defining the purpose of schools focuses the direction of schools, teachers, and students. While some originally intended for public education to provide basic learning for successful democratic citizenship, others saw schools mainly as a way to support the economic workforce. Today, educational goals and “success” have become defined by student performance on standardized tests, in addition to measures like student attendance and graduation rates. While these might be part of the purpose of education, many school reformers are seeking ways to broaden the goals of education to include students’ social, emotional, and intellectual development, as well as helping students gain the skills needed to build a better and more democratic world. 

  1. Voice and Engagement. The question of who has control and authority in schools has long been answered with “leave it to the professionals,” meaning administrators and policy-makers. However, as more people push for participatory structures throughout the government, there are also efforts toward more participation throughout the educational system. Creating opportunities for meaningful involvement for students, teachers, and parents is growing in many communities, while the federal government is increasingly asking how and where nontraditional voices can be engaged in decision-making. Businesses, community organizations, mayors, and others want roles, too.  This is a topic that many people can rally around. 

  1. Curriculum. The question of who decides the curriculum in schools has a big impact on what goes on in schools. With influences ranging from textbook companies to politicians, and from school boards to businesses and more, schools and teachers somehow have to sort this out and provide a meaningful learning experience for students.  The federal government, along with a coalition of private organizations, is supporting the concept of “Common Core State Standards” that would create the same standards throughout the country, and many governors have urged their states to follow them.  

  1. Time in School. The length of the school day has been a popular topic for decades, and particularly in recent years. Recent brain research has shown youth have different sleep needs than adults, while it’s been popular to say that students in the US have less “seat time” than students around the world (as a matter of fact, this is incorrect: while students in some countries have more days of school than the US, most of those countries have shorter school days that actually results in less seat time). The length of the school year is also a consideration, as some advocates are determined to add more seat time by replacing traditional summer breaks with more frequent shorter breaks throughout the year. The amount of years a student needs to attend school is also an issue, as more public education leaders consider a “P16” system essential: pre-kindergarten through college graduation.

  1. Schedule. The schedule of a school often drives the learning and curriculum in the school.  The traditional 45-minute period of high schools, for instance, means that projects and activities are harder to do and fit within that time, as is traveling outside of the school for field trips or connecting with the community.  Block schedules often have 1.5 or 2 hour blocks of time for classes, which provides some of these opportunities.  Other schools provide classes for part of the time and give students self-directed learning time to pursue projects that earn them credit.  

  1. Out of School Time. Offering activities after school, in the evenings, on the weekends, and throughout the summer are common in some schools, while other schools do not provide them at all. Tutoring and mentoring, sports and extracurricular clubs, and other learning or social experiences are out of the norm for many students, as their families or their schools are fiscally incapable of participating. Schools and communities could come together to devise creative ways to offer these opportunities to all students, regardless of income.  

  1. Charter Schools. In most states that have them, charter schools are schools that are publicly funded and privately operated (outside of the typical school district), and which students and parents can choose to attend instead of the local public school. Charter schools are all different, some are experimental and innovative, while others are very traditional but with longer hours.  Studies are mixed about the benefit of charters, but the issue is becoming one that dominates education today.  Many political leaders are supporting the creation of more and more charter schools, while those opposed believe charter schools take the most engaged parents and students, leaving the least engaged to stay in the regular public schools.

  1. Class and School Size. The number of students to teachers, called “student/teacher ratios,” has been shown to affect how well students learn.  Many advocates call for smaller class size, while others claim size makes little difference.  School consolidation, where small schools in local communities are merged into a single large school for a large surrounding area, has been happening since the 1940s. Now many of those larger schools are being closed, such as in New York City, to create smaller schools.  

  1. Teacher Development. Thinking about what teachers learn and how they learn it is important to making schools work better. The idea is that more and better opportunities for support, mentorship, and professional development for teachers will lead to better teaching and improved teacher quality.  In some countries, teachers have far less teaching time than in the U.S., and have more time to plan with other teachers and observe the teaching of others.  Half of all teachers leave teaching within their first 5 years, and new teachers have a steep learning curve.  

  1. Teacher Quality. Teacher quality is one of the biggest issues being discussed now by teachers unions, politicians, and teachers themselves.  Many are saying that we need to determine who is a good teacher and who is a bad teacher.  What some are saying is that when students are not succeeding in schools at sufficient rates, it must be the teachers’ fault. While teachers certainly have impact on their students, outside factors are also a big issue, including poverty, home life, and the outside community.  Getting rid of teacher tenure (which gives teachers extra support from being fired) and firing low-performing teachers based on student test scores is the new approach taken by districts around the country.

  1. Technology in Schools. The issue of schools maintaining their relevance in the face of technological developments isn’t new. In the 1950s the US became engulfed with the Cold War, and schools were forced to innovate their educational goals with the supposed purpose of keeping America competitive with the Soviet Union. Today the issue of how to teach about technology in schools continues, as some schools limit access to the Internet, raising concerns about free speech, while other schools are increasing their use of technology in the classroom.  Virtual schools and online classes are becoming more and more common, and many educators believe the future of education is found in technology.  

  1. Special Education. The questions facing special education include the labeling of students, funding the support services that special education students receive, and “mainstreaming” special education students throughout the school population. There are concerns about disproportionate representation of males and students of color as special education students, as well as equal access to support for such learners.  Charter schools and other schools of choice are sometimes criticized for weeding out special education students since they have more leeway in which students they accept.  

  1. Funding Priorities. Traditionally funded by taxpayer dollars at the local, state, and (at a smaller level) federal level, in recent decades schools have actively sought funding from corporations, philanthropic foundations, and private donors as well. Funding basic education is an increasing issue in times when government support is waning, and as a result teaching materials and school buildings are becoming neglected or worn out. Teachers often purchase supplies out of their own pockets, or simply go without in communities where schools are underfunded. In affluent school districts students generally have access to better materials and teachers get paid high salaries, affording those students better educations. In turn, this reinforces the “academic achievement gap” that separates many students.  Calls for equitable funding are frequent, and have found mixed success.

These are some of the issues students can address in schools as you consider what to change and how to work with adults. By learning more about these issues and taking firm stands, young people can contribute to the conversation and take action in sophisticated, relevant ways that make you a partner in working with adults to improve your school.

Visit the SoundOut website for more information on issues addressed through student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement.

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