Unboxing “Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook”

Yesterday, I got a great package in the mail. Clocking in at 374-pages, Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook is filled with tools, research, examples and more resources for educators, advocates and others who want to foster student/adult partnerships throughout the education system.

Here’s my unboxing of the book. Let me know what you think?



Order your copy of Student Voice Revolution!


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#StudentVoice is NOT the Same as #EdTech

Technology in education is not student voice. Using tech in schools is not student voice. In no way, shape or form does student voice require tech. When it comes to student voice, BYOD, 1:1, tablets, smartphones, labs, carts, texting, social media are OPTIONS, not requirements.

There’s a myth being sold by some ed tech companies today that using their specific kind of tech, their unique product, or their proprietary program. That’s simply not true.

Student voice does not belong to any one company, nonprofit, approach or activity. This is as true for ed tech as it is for curriculum writers, test writers, policymakers, or anyone else. Just like there can’t be a student voice robot that speaks for students, there can’t be a single technology, innovation or activity that wholesales student expression.

This is true for many reasons, but perhaps the elemental reason is the very definition of student voice. Student voice is any expression of any student about anything related to education and learning. People don’t like that definition because it doesn’t meet their particular desire for students.

From my own experience working with a variety of partners in ed tech, I have found a few who are earnestly committed to engaging student voice throughout education.

However, a large number of ed tech professionals are more committed to selling product and making schools do what they want them to than they are to student voice. VERY few people today are earnestly committed to student voice.

I am not a Luddite or anti-tech, largely because I’m committed to authentic student engagement. Tech can authentically engage students. However, tech is not student voice; there’s a difference.


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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher

New for 2017!

Student Voice ​Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook is the brand-new master​y​ book ​focused on student voice, student engagement, student/adult partnerships, and more. 

Containing tons of details, this book is focused on engaging all students in every school as partners in every facet of education for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to learning, community, and democracy. ​There are more than 75 examples from the author’s ​experience and research, as well as literature from throughout education. Never before published tools, new models and useful tips are included, along with more than 300 citations, dozens of recent and historic anecdotes, and ​more.  The book also highlights unique ​approaches, detailed assessments and critical examinations of everyday school activities make this publication ​un​like ​any other available today. This book should be read by teachers, college students, other educators and school leaders and others focused on education transformation. 

Student Voice Revolution is an optimistic, realistic and pragmatic clarion call for the future of public schools in democratic societies. Are YOU ready for this revolution?

About the Author

An internationally-recognized consultant and speaker focused on student voice​,​ author​ Adam Fletcher has worked with schools, education agencies, and other organizations across the United States and Canada. ​He is the author the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum, The Practice of Youth Engagement and The Guide to Student Voice. His writing has also been published in education journals and magazines around the world.

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Command and Control Schools


Today, I toured a middle school in the region where I live. Listening to an adult school leader explaining the school to me, I heard several the cues that routinely concern me:

  • “Our students don’t have problems”
  • “We don’t allow students to have social time”
  • “There is routine homework in every class, every day, all year long”
  • “We maintain strong communication with parents”
  • “We have a strong culture of respect for adults here”

These are all signs of a “Command-and-Control School.” These are highly structured, highly demanding and highly adultcentric places featuring rote memorization, rigid adherence to standardized curriculum and gross overcommitment to testing and assessment.

Command-and-Control Schools…

  1. Regard students are problems that need to be solved;
  2. Think adults have all the answers to solve students-as-problems;
  3. Don’t see students as full humans with rights and responsibilities;
  4. Disagree with the ability of parents and students to be equitable educational partners

I raise these issues because they are the antithesis of Meaningful Student Involvement. When I began studying schools for signs of student voice in 2000, it took me several years to discern the patterns in which students said learning mattered to them. However, when they came forward, I identified these Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement as the keys to moving education forward. They centered on the notion that schools must become places that actively engage students as equitable partners with adults throughout learning, teaching and leadership across the entirety of the education system.


Meaningful Student Involvement Schools…

  • Treat students as the problem-solvers of global, local and personal problems today and in the future;
  • Foster equitable student/adult partnerships that position everyone, everywhere, all the time as active learners, teachers and leaders, regardless of their age;
  • Engage every student as a full human with unique abilities, challenges, opportunities and knowledge;
  • Support the entire ability of students and parents to become engaged throughout the entire education system.


What To Listen For

I know I’ve found a school that’s on-point when I hear the antithesis of what I heard today:

  • “Our students meet challenges head on with adults who empower and support them”
  • “Our teachers work with students pace teaching to meet every student’s learning needs”
  • “Students actively engaged in learning throughout their lives, and schools support them where and how they choose to do that”
  • “We engage students and parents as equitable partners everywhere, all the time”
  • “We have a strong culture of mutual respect among students, between students and teachers, and throughout our learning environment”

When I hear those things, I hear meaningfulness.

I have been writing about whole school approaches to Meaningful Student Involvement lately – I’d love to hear what you think.


Love Among Those Seeking Voice

Students in São Paulo occupy a school. #ocupaescola
Students in São Paulo occupy a school. #ocupaescola


In these strident times when big headlines constantly dash across the news, it can be hard to see the love. The media paints every protester as angry and every different person as foreign. Locally, we argue over outcomes while we fight for the same pots of money.

Today, I got an update on a project I’m following in São Paulo, Brazil. You might remember that I spent some time there last year. I was brought there by the spectacular Lilian L’Abbate Kelian to talk about youth power, and thankfully, she’s kept me up to date on what continues to grow there.

This month, students throughout the state of São Paulo have occupied their schools in a large scale effort to get students a seat at the school reform conversations underway there. Taking over more than 90 schools, students are taking care of the spaces, continue providing services, and are attempting to negotiate with government education leaders. A judge has ruled their actions constitute a policy dilemma and not something for police to worry about; unfortunately, this hasn’t kept police away everywhere, and some of the students have been threatened.

All that is a simple, dry account of the work of the soul that these students are engaged in. They are feeling passionate, engaged and empowered to take drastic steps. They are demonstrating their sense of ownership and belonging in places they care deeply about. They are showing us love for their schools!

It gets better.

Today I received news that there is love among those who are struggling to find a voice. The MST, a movement of rural workers without land in Brazil, has decided to donate 1.000 liters of milk, 500 gallons of grape juice and 1.000 packets of chocolate milk to the students in order to support their occupation. At least five schools will receive the products of these farmers.

In São Paulo today, they are saying,

Long live the struggle of the students!
Long live the agrarian reform!
Long live the public school and free of quality!

That is love among those seeking a voice.

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Student Voice is Not Enough

Student voice is not enough. Hundreds of studies, thousands of projects and dozens of advocates are calling for more and more student voice without saying plainly what schools really need. The answer is not student voice.

Meaningful Involvement Matters

Adam Fletcher's 2011 Ladder of Engagement
Learn more from my Ladder at here!

When I began my research and projects focused in schools 15 years ago, few people were talking about student voice or student engagement in any substantive ways. There was some research that was spread across the spectrum and generally disconnected over disciplines (education leadership, ed psych and curriculum) as well as geography.

Right away though, I drew on my experience in community-based youth engagement advocacy to determine that simply asking for schools to listen to student voice wasn’t enough. Unfortunately, even the most well-intended teacher and high-minded student cannot navigate the school system deftly enough to actually create systemic change without intentional, deliberate and substantial opportunities to do that. Listening to student voice is not what that is.

I developed Meaningful Student Involvement as an approach specifically to help educators navigate the brave to world of student voice and student engagement that started to emerge in the 2000s.

As time as carried on, I have been unable to teach everyone, everywhere the tenets of my approach. Despite working with almost 500 K-12 schools across the United States and Canada, the expectations adults have for students are so utterly low that we believe that students simply showing up to participate in these conversations is better than nothing at all – even if we have to tell them what to say!

Seducing Student Voice

Unfortunately, the reality is that it is better for student’s to muffle their voices on their own rather than be tokenized, hijacked or otherwise manipulated by adults within or outside of education to say what adults want them to.

Alas, having their voices solicited, manipulated or used by educators, advocates or politicians is a seductive experience for many young people. We live in a society that values overt leadership, active engagement and explicit expressions over personal leadership, passive connectedness or subtle yet sustained engagement. Because of that, the student who says, “Listen to me, listen to me!” is always going to get more attention than those who don’t.

Unfortunately, without confronting this reality, student voice will actually help the situation get worse, not better. Student voice will only continue to perpetuate our previous expectations of student leaders, and as such is only a continuation of the norm: Students who are involved will become more involved, and those who are will only become more more disengaged.

The Solution to Student Voice

Rather than creating exceptional experiences for exceptional students to become engaged in sharing student voice in exceptional ways, there is a solution to student voice perpetuating the wrong things.

To the chagrin of some, I would never suggest that the whole school system has to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Instead, I recognize the need to work with what we have and move it towards what it could become.

From my study of students who have actually transformed schools, I believe that all programs must adopt a form of the following strategy:

  • Deepened focus: Rather than simply promoting student voice, all organizations must focus on meaningful student involvement, which focuses student engagement through student/adult partnerships in order to transform schools and communities.
  • Broadened application: Organizations and programs must use a three-prong approach to transforming the entirety of the education. Those three prongs are changing attitudes, transforming cultures, and reforming the structures of education.
  • Systemwide infusion: Rather than being satisfied with making headway in one area of schools, programs for meaningful student involvement should gather the entirety of the education system as their target of transformation. That doesn’t mean not to start in one place, it just means to keep the rest of the situation in mind while taking action.
  • Strong learning connections: Students are constantly learning, and any program for meaningful student involvement will have learning at its core. Adults in the education system should work to infuse student voice into classrooms by ensuring students get credits for their engagement throughout the education system.
  • Sustainable structures of support: Get sustainable by seeking, building and reforming policies and procedures to foster meaningful student involvement throughout the educational system.
  • Make friends and build family: Students should be infused throughout ongoing, sustainable school improvement activities in the form of learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools, districts, states and every single school improvement activity. Every school should be in a continuous mode of improvement; every single improvement effort should seek nothing less than to engage students.

Those six characteristics are at the core of meaningful student involvement, and they represent the real potential of student voice. They solve student voice.


To learn more about this idea, check out my Frameworks of Meaningful Student Voice. Feel free to contact me to talk, too!

Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement

Kentucky Student Voice Movement

In states across the U.S., there have been divergent efforts to promote student voice in a variety of ways over the years. This month I want to feature Kentucky, which has BLOWN UP dramatically over the last year after more than a decade of strong efforts.

In my studies and discussions with student voice advocates, researchers and practitioners across the state, no single leader has emerged as leading the way for all others to follow. Instead, there are several different locations where action has emerged, spread, died off and reemerged again.

After partnering with a program there this school year and helping friends there with a separate initiative, I want to feature the great work I’ve found going there not just right now, but over the course of my 15 years in this field.

Following are several examples of Kentucky’s student voice movement over the years:

  • (1997) Students as Informants: In 1997, the Partnership for Kentucky Schools and Roberts & Kay, Inc. launched a statewide research project promoting student voice called “Students Speak”. They conducted dozens of data-gathering activities with students, wrote several reports and created resources for others. One is the Students Speak Tool Kit, developed to guide educators, school board members, parents and others in planning and carrying out strategies for listening to students in order to improve their school experiences, including academic performance, school climate, and school safety. Find the toolkit and more here.
  • (1998) Students as Decision-Makers: In 1998, then-doctoral candidate George Patmor conducted a statewide study of high school schools in Kentucky. He surveyed 310 students and adults opinions about how students should be involved in school decision-making. I have talked with George repeatedly over the years, and hosted a visit for him here in Washington State a decade ago to talk about his work. A summary of his research is here, and a full version of his dissertation is available from SoundOut.
  • (2002) Students as Policy-Makers: In June 2002, Kentucky’s then-Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit requested the Kentucky Department of Education gather preliminary information concerning student input to education policymakers. An intern named Zach Webb conducted interviews with more than 20 state boards of education to discern what the national scene was. I admired this report so much, A National Assessment of Student Involvement in School Policy-Making – Meeting Kentucky’s Educational Needs: Proficiency, Achievement Gaps, and the Potential of Student Involvement (2002), I put it on the SoundOut website with Webb’s permission.
  • (2010) Students as Informants: The Kentucky Department of Education is facilitating statewide data collection via a Student Voice Survey. Its questions are aligned to The Kentucky Framework for Teaching, which was adapted from the Charlotte Danielson framework for teaching. Districts are encouraged to share the Student Voice Survey questions. The 3-5 and 6-12 Student Voice Survey questions are available in the toolkit here. Read an article about the tool and its context here.
  • (2012) Students as Advocates: In September 2012, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence formed a Student Voice Team. Today, the SVT is comprised of a team of self-selected middle school through college students working to elevate the voices of Kentucky youth on the classroom impact of education issues and support students as policy partners in improving Kentucky schools. Since then, they’ve launched a variety of advocacy campaigns meant to build the state’s student voice movement. I admire the SVT greatly and follow their work regularly. Learn more here.
  • (2013) Students as Learners: The Green River Educational Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative operate a program called kid∙FRIENDLy. Working with dozens of districts in their regions, kid∙FRIENDLy is promoting student voice as a component of their classroom transformation efforts. I worked with them this year to help teachers in these regions grapple with classroom-focused student voice efforts. Learn more here.


To date, many things have transformed, improved and been changed throughout the state. I think one of the morals of the story that’s implicit in this laundry list, though, is the need for a larger framework that infuses student voice into a sustainable course of educational transformation. I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change to help with this type of effort; perhaps people in Kentucky might consider it as they proceed.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to follow up with any of the leads above to learn what’s happening right now, and to visit their social media, too.

Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement is a model for the nation and the world. What’s happening in YOUR community today?!?

Don’t Let Students Be Misunderstood

All educators are well-meaning in their intentions for students. Nobody wants students to fail, no matter how poorly they are paid, how discriminatory they may be, or how brief/long they’ve worked in schools, there is no teacher, administrator, support staff or other adult in schools who overtly wants students to fail.

Adults in schools genuinely want students to get good jobs and have successful lives. They create activities and opportunities, programs and entire organizations that intend to promote students success, in ways that many adults define it: Future-oriented, success equates to having good educations, nuclear families, and successful employment, which means a great paycheck and a powerful position.

Students who don’t aspire to that vision of success are looked upon suspiciously. They are given labels and stigmatized constantly, and their version of success is frowned upon by adults. These students are given many descriptions, and are oftentimes said to be:

  • Deficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills
  • Disconnected or at-risk of disconnecting from home and/or school
  • Facing disabilities
  • Coming from low-income families
  • Experiencing past, present, or chronic homelessness
  • Living in foster care or transitioning out of foster care
  • Experiencing pregnancy or parenting
  • Having a criminal record
  • Being court involved
  • Being gang involved
  • Experiencing substance abuse


Unfortunately, these descriptions show how we’re misunderstanding students.

3 Ways to REALLY Understand Students

If we are serious about student engagement, we have to understand what really disengages them right now. Here are three ways to REALLY understand students.

  1. Understand that ALL Students ARE Engaged in Learning Right Now—We Just Don’t Recognize That. With so many different avenues for educational engagement, including production, innovation, distribution, consumption, deconstruction and re-invention, the overwhelmingly vast majority of students are engaged in the learning right now. However, adults aren’t acknowledging how this is happening.
  2. Understand that Students are Engaged in Other Activities—We Simply Don’t Validate Their Importance. Even if they’ve dropped out, left home, or play video games all day, students are engaged in all kinds of things that are educational. They can be engaged in friendships, skateboarding, fashion, music, video gaming, cars and anything else in which they have a sustained connection. Because of that, they can also be engaged in things adults see as negative, like drugs, alcohol, sex and vandalism. If adults want students to become engaged in learning, we have to present them with something of equal or greater value to become engaged in—after we learn what they are currently engaged in.
  3. Understand that Students have been Taught to be Disengaged—And We Are Responsible for That, Too. Through television, at school, in their family lives, and throughout our communities, students are routinely taught to be disengaged. Parents and teachers constantly make decisions for students without students while politicians and business owners choose what students need without them, as well. However, a magic day comes when adults insist students automatically become engaged in what adults want them to. When that doesn’t happen we become frustrated and confused. Its no wonder why—imagine what its like for students themselves!

These are three ways to REALLY understand students. If you want to engage students in schools, it is important to understand these ways, because every students experiences some part of them right now.

Why It Matters

When faced with students who fit the descriptions above, adults in a variety of roles make immediate decisions based on them. They decide what students’ behaviors, attitudes, ideas and beliefs are without ever talking directly with them. In many cases, employers, teachers, social workers and others decide these students are disengaged. Because of that, they brush past them in interviews, ignore them in classes, or release them from services that might be vital to these students.

Student disengagement is often presented as a viral disease that sweeps through particular populations of students, like those listed above. This is especially true when talking about high school, where disengagement leads to students becoming “failed learners”. This view is often presented with research by its side, including claims that student engagement in the economy is determined by the income levels of families of origin more than other effects. However, correlation is not causation, and a lot of this research is presented from a lopsided perspective.

How To Change It

If we really want to address student disengagement in schools, we have to really understand students. Here are three ways to do that.

  • Acknowledge Student Engagement in Learning Right Now. Look at these seven parts of learning: Innovation, Creation, Development, Distribution, Consumption, Deconstruction, and Re-invention. Every single student is engaged in at least one of these parts right now. Alas, schools might not value their learning engagement, but that doesn’t mean students aren’t educationally engaged. Students are educationally engaged if they are writing apps for cell phones; reading magazines during school; running a lawn mowing business; knitting scarves for their friends; buying the latest songs online; recycling soda cans to save the planet; or taking apart old TVs and rebuilding them into something else. If you want to change your understanding of students, start seeing how they’re engaged in learning right now.
  • Validate the Importance of Every Form of Student Engagement. If you aren’t happy with the ways students are engaged in learning right now, try seeing the other things they’re sustainably connected to right now. Learning is woven throughout their lives, and every kind of student engagement benefits every part of the education. That means if students are sustainably connected to sports, they’re learning; if they’re engaged in comic books, they’re learning; if they’re deeply committed to learning about any topic, they’re learning. If you want to understand students, validate the importance of every form of student engagement.
  • Acknowledge You are Responsible for the Problem, and can be Part of the Solution. No generation has created the challenges it faces, and none is solely responsible for creating the solutions. However, if more people are going to understand students, we need to recognize that each of us is partly responsible for this challenge—and for the solution. This isn’t some grandiose charge, either. Its an earnest call for practical, meaningful action throughout schools right now. You have to take that responsibility in order for things to be different.

These are important considerations for educators to keep in mind when they are trying to help students graduate; learn about social issues; train students to do a particular job; teach life skills to students; make policies and regulations for students; and much more. They should be kept in mind by programs, classes, organizations, curriculum writers, and others who promote student engagement.

When we work from these places, we will see dramatic improvements in student engagement. That includes better classroom outcomes, learning goals, lifetime prospects, and much more. If we fail to acknowledge these realities, a different future is waiting than anything that’s been anticipated.