Cycle: Validating Students

It is as if students occupy a dichotomy in society where their voices are either completely worshipped or totally dismissed, and worse still, sometimes fully repressed. Mainstream media frequently place student voice on a pedestal, highlighting the “outrageous” things kids say or making the opinions and ideas of students into the flavor of the day in advertisements.

At the same time, mainstream news sources regularly demonize students, labeling students as “super predators” who are apathetic about society, incapable of complex mental functions, and perpetually failing in school and throughout society.

Really Valuing Students
Truly validating what students have shared with educators requires that educators get past their preconceived ideas of what should happen and respond as authentically and genuinely as appropriate, and as possible. 
Validation alone can provide very rich rewards for students who say they do not feel acknowledged by educators. It provides a fertile ground for educators to show students that they see them, they matter, and that student voice affects them.

In a variety of institutions throughout our society educators rarely want to know what students think, feel, act, and understand. When it does happen, well-meaning educators often seem stuck in their assumed role of sage advice-givers and secret knowledge-holders. 

In addition to those behaviors, other educators automatically assume that validating students means just saying yes to them all the time. This type of permissiveness is disingenuous at best, as it can actively disable the ability of students to respond to adversity and challenge, and incapacitate their natural survival mechanisms that promote resilience and adaptation. 
More Than Yes Or No
This means validating is more than just saying, “Yes.” Sometimes it means saying, “No.” Sometimes it means asking inquiring questions. One way to get to the core of any statement is to ask 5 Why’s. 
It could look like this:

“I want to eat a slice of bread.”
“Why?”
“I’m hungry.”
“Why are you hungry?”
“Because I skipped breakfast this morning.”
“Why?”
“I got in a fight with my little sister.”
“Why?”

“I spilled her bowl of cereal on her by accident. She was wearing her new outfit, and I was in a hurry to get food from the kitchen, so I rushed by her in there and bumped her by accident. I was running late for a meeting at school where there’s a boy I really want to talk to…”

…And so forth. The 5 Why’s can provide a useful “drilling” technique in situations where you really want to know what students are thinking. There are other techniques, too. However, blasé or indifferent attitudes defeat student voice. Students frequently intuitively sense when educators do not authentically care about their perspectives. The idiom, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to,” applies here.

Listening to students and validating what they have said is just the start to the Cycle. The next step is authorizing.


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!

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