New Video for The Guide to Student Voice

To help make sharing The Guide to Student Voice easier, I created a short (1 min) video that introduces the video, shares about its content, and describes the ideal audiences for it.

As a subscriber to my blog, I invite you to contact me directly with any questions, comments, concerns or ideas related to it. Thanks for reading!

 

Related Content

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

Following are reflection questions focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. Find resources to challenge these barriers at SoundOut.org.

 

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

1+soundout+logo

 

  1. Are barriers to student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement being addressed?
  2. What steps are taken to ensure that student voice is meaningful?
  3. Do students understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes?
  4. Do students know who made the decisions about their engagement and why they were made?
  5. Is the input of students recorded, reported in writing, and distributed?
  6. Do students receive a report (verbal or in writing) on the decisions made in the light of their input?
  7. Were false and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate deliberately addressed by students and/or adults?
  8. Are all adults clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement?
  9. Do adults support Meaningful Student Involvement?
  10. Do adults provide good examples of being personally and systemically engaged?
  11. How was students’ inexperience addressed?
  12. Did students work on issues that they clearly identify as important?
  13. Did students participating start with short-term goals and activities?
  14. Have students and adults identified and, when possible, corrected negative experiences students have had in participation?
  15. What steps were taken to reduce the resistance from adults?
  16. Has there been a written policy statement developed from the governing body?
  17. Has there been a memo/document from the school leader stating their support, encouragement, and commitment to aningful Student Involvement?
  18. Has the principal or superintendent introduced Meaningful Student Involvement at a meeting?
  19. Have there been social events organized to increase positive interactions between students and adults?
  20. Have joint workshops with students and adults been held?
  21. Has a plan been put in place to bring students into the mainstream, core activities of the class or school?
  22. Have steps been taken to help students fit into adult structures?
  23. Have students been placed on an adult decision-making body with support from a designated adult?
  24. Does someone meet with students before meetings to help them clarify their objectives for the meeting?
  25. Do students feel comfortable about asking for clarification?
  26. What steps have been taken to make the location and times of meetings convenient to students?
    1. Consulting with the students involved about times/dates of meetings
    2. Choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation
  27. Are there any other initiatives or changes going on in the class or school (new programs, restructuring, etc.) that will compete for attention with the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement?
  28. How are the student members selected so that they are credible to the student body?
  29. How do you know that they are credible?

 

These are some basic questions that can be useful to initiatives that are focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. There are no absolutely right answers to ever question, because these activities are gradual and take time to unfold. Ones that appear far ahead can collapse onto themselves and fall back to the lowest common denominator.

 

gsv
For more information, order a copy of The Guide to Student Voice by Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/The-Guide-Student-Voice-Edition/dp/0692217320

Every Resource I’ve Made for Schools

1+soundout+logo1Are you a student, a K-12 educator, education administrator, school advocate, concerned parent, a nonprofit partner, or somebody else in the community who is concerned about schools? Following is a list of resources I’ve created focused on schools. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

 

My Resources On Student Voice

 

My Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement

 

My Resources on Student Engagement

 

My Resources on Education

 

My Resources on Democracy in Education

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.

 

Adult-Driven Student Voice

puppets

Student Voice is any expression of any learner anywhere, all the time, about anything related to learning, schools, and education. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever students are. The question generally is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

If a student is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing student voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities, as well as many other formal school activities. However, students who cut themselves are sharing student voice, just like student graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing student voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven student voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Student Voice

Adult-Driven Student Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make student voice become convenient for adults. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven student voice.

  • WHO: Students who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All students are equal members of the schools they attend, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven student voice selects specific students who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share student voice.
  • WHAT: Students say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what students have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for students. Students are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when students want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Student voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for students to share their opinions about something, student voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit student voice about specific issues. Students have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for students. If students move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit SoundOut to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with student voice.

Guide to Students on School Boards by Adam Fletcher

The SoundOut Guide to Students on School Boards provides information, research, tips, and more about how to get students on boards of education. Written for SoundOut by a student activist and national advocate. Download your FREE copy of the Guide here!

Praising Student Voice

award

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?

 

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!

Public Schools Aren’t Democratic

Being the autocratic, adultcentric environments that they are, public schools today are not democratic. They are existent within a society operating on democratic methods, and they (mostly) publicly allow every young person to enroll in them. However, on the whole, public schools are not led in a democratic fashion, are devoid of democratic teaching methods, and do not teach democracy in a systemic, deliberate fashion.

School leaders and educators routinely tell students that schools aren’t democracies, too. That pronouncement alone is terrible. It makes student voice, student leadership, and student engagement activities something other than democratic: tokenistic and belittling, some students see through them and are justly cynical or resistant to participating. 

Because of this, the argument that student voice is democracy in action is flawed at its core. In my experience working with hundreds of schools across the US and Canada, I’ve found that, relatively speaking, students who are chosen to share their voices in school leadership are generally not representative of the majority of learners. They generally have privileges that others don’t, including the academic achievement and fiscal background needed to allow them to participate, and to ensure their successful experience sharing student voice.

These students are generally what I call “traditional student voice”; that is, their voices are generally predictable and acceptable to adults. Through gross over-exaggerations about schools and the inability of education to meet their needs, many student voice representatives today don’t even address the basic concerns of low-achieving students, students of color, or low-income students in schools today. To the chagrin of many of my compatriots in the student voice movement, I regularly see and admit that the majority of traditional student voice representatives merely toe the corporate education agenda sold by mainstream media and the vast majority of politicians (as do their parents).

While all students’ voices have value for improving schools and transforming education, when adults hold up one set of students’ voices and make them reflective or representative of the whole education system that it becomes problematic. That’s true of nontraditional student voice as well as traditional student voice. While some educators pedestal convenient student voice, there are nonprofit organization programs that do the same with inconvenient student voice. They routinely uplift the voices of students of color, low-income students, underachieving learners, and others, offering those students’ critiques as a singular focus for school improvement.

In reality, this isn’t democracy either, as both position one group of students above others. While I readily acknowledge that all student voice is not created equal, I believe that in democracy all people ARE created equal. That’s an essential distinction, and shows why public schools aren’t democratic.

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