Why No Student Voice?

Going over my Guide to Students on School Boards this weekend, I found an interesting fact: Almost all of the states of the states that have outlawed students on school boards allow corporal punishment in schools.

The 14 states that have laws that don’t allow students to serve on district boards of education Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

The 19 states that legally allow corporal punishment are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This represents a diminutive view of young people in general, resultant of social norms from hundreds of years ago.

High rates of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, exist in these states’ schools as well. Relying on fear and intimidation to ensure social structure is ever-present in these states’ school systems, as well as throughout many of the local communities in these states.

The results of these stringent efforts to systematically disenfranchise students ensures the success of the school-to-prison pipeline that targets low-income students, students of color, and others. This pipeline, in turn, is devolving much of society for the benefit of the notorious one percent.

Ultimately, I believe that states have outlawed students on school boards in order to ensure social division, secure corporate profits, and maintain the culture of fear that benefits historically powerful populations in our society, including the legacy of racism and much more.

To note though, even though other states may not have laws against students on school boards, and others still actually have students there who aren’t allowed to say or do anything significant, the danger is that positioning students on school boards may be largely tokenistic: Without a relevant framework informing their actions, well-meaning adults may simply be placating popular interest without affecting any real change in schools.
Its important to understand that students on school boards is a step towards meaningful student involvement, but not the whole path. That is a much larger framework involving many more activities that can actually engage every single student in every single school all of the time. That’s my grand vision for school reform today, and what I think we should all be working for in schools everywhere.
Luckily, I’ve seen the number of students, parents, educators, and others who agree on that grow each year. We’re heading toward the future, and its coming to meet us in schools right now.

Why Student Voice Doesn’t Work

SO guyMany educators assume student voice is expressed when students make choices. That is correct, although its not the only way.

Instead, consider that voice is apparent throughout the entirety of the students’ being, rather than just the choices educators assign them to make. When a student slouches in class, they’re expressing student voice. When they’re raising their hand and appear engaged, they’re expressing student voice.

Whenever students show up to school, get in fights, turn in all their assignments, text friends during class, conform to uniforms, graffiti in bathroom stalls, or otherwise, they are expressing student voice. That’s because student voice is any expression of any learner focused on education or schools anywhere, anytime. I defined it that way in my Guide to Student Voice, and the reason why is because students are whole people, right now. Their whole being expresses student voice. Whether or not they’re conscious of that is irrelevant.

I think the reality is that educators are searching for meaning beyond the complex/simple or A/B expressions of students implicit in the conception of voice = choice. Constantly listening to student voice is inherently unfulfilling, because it grossly oversimplifies students themselves. We can do better than that!

That’s why I developed a framework for engaging students as partners throughout the education system called Meaningful Student Involvement. It embraces student voice, but effectively repositions them as equitable partners throughout the educational system in order to infuse their voices with purpose and potential, rather than simply hearing what they have to say.

I’d love to hear what you think about that.

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!

Student Voice and Student Activism

One of the main researchers of student voice in the world today is Dana Mitra. Based out of Penn State, she’s done awesome work over the last 15+ years focused on students changing schools, and more. I really admire her writing, her commitment, and the breadth of her studies. She’s taught me a lot.

Today, she posted this video on our Student Voice Researchers and Practitioners facebook group. It details the causes of the massive uprising in Venezuela right now.

In response,  I asked the following questions:

Can we talk about the uncomfortable bridge between student-led student activism for education reform and adult-led student voice in schools? 

From my conversations and workshops, I’ve found that a lot of teachers are very off-put by that connection. Why is that? Is there an unspoken assumption that hidden inside every student is a possible revolutionary? Or that every student activist could potentially lead Venezuela-style protests?

Or does this get to the heart of why there still isn’t a #studentvoice movement throughout North American public schools, en masse? Is it that schools (including but not limited to teachers, administrators, and elected officials) are simply frightened by the prospects of educated, aware, and empowered students?

These questions go further, too, as they reach to the very heart of our society’s relationships with young people today. That’s all for another post though…

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?

 

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities

Creating a safe and supportive learning environment is vital to engaging student voice.

A great way to do that is through reflection. Reflection is a process of looking back on an experience and deciphering the meaning of it. This post shares some activities to foster that process.

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities
There are several activities facilitators can use to foster reflection on student voice:

  1. Emotional Go-Around. Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
  2. Learning Skits. Split the students into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their learning experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
  3. Visualization. Take your students on an imaginary tour of their learning experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their learning experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their learning experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
  4. Group Banners. Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask students to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience. 
  5. All Tied Up. Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their learning experience the outcome would’ve been different, etc. 
  6. Learning Journals. Ask students to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity Journal include team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
  7. Time Capsule. As students are being introduced to your conference, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to Peace Jam and their school’s projects on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your conference, or anything else relevant to what’s going on. Have the students write down how they are feeling at the start of the weekend, how they feel at different points of their school’s projects (e.g. what they expected at the beginning of the year, how they felt about your topic or conference before this weekend, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole. Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the your conference.
How I Use Them
I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and meaningful student involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection. 

Recently, I facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process. At the beginning of the process, a group of “nontraditional student leaders” showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. So, I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.

Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school’s faculty focused on meaningful student involvement in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators’ minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:

  • What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
  • What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students’ experiences today?
  • Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?

During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again – although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.

Needless to say, after that the group went exactly where I wanted them to, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students’ projections of what their school could become.

Points to Remember
There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice. Here are a few:

  • 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.
Each of these points can help make your student voice reflection activities richer and more meaningful. The wealth that emerges can then be used to move students further towards becoming partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools – and if that’s not the point, what is?!?
Learn more about me on my website, follow my pro facebook page, or catch me on Twitter.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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!