There is a growing awareness that student engagement is a vital element of school improvement. The belief that the social, emotional, academic, cultural, and psychological connections students make with their learning, their learning environments, and the process of education seems to be tearing up academic journals and popular education discourse. Every week another report, guide, or curriculum is produced that exclaims how vital student engagement is to education.
About 10 years ago I began a journey of learning here in Washington with the state’s education agency as their first-ever student engagement specialist. Then there was little literature available on student engagement, and what did exist was so disparate that it was inaccessible to many researchers, let alone the educators and administrators who really needed the tools to do their work more effectively. I found what I could, began workshops around the state, and learned tons more from the teachers, principals, counselors, and support staff who were on the ground everyday. More importantly, I began a series of action research projects with students themselves, and learned a ton.
When I founded SoundOut.org in 2003, it was with the intention of building out the resource base and sharing what was already there. The SoundOut Student Voice Research Library was almost instantly popular, with tons of people flooding it’s virtual racks to find useful publications about student engagement and student voice. I created a unique Student Activism Map, laying out in geographic terms the range of student-led school reform organizing campaigns going on nationally. This gave advocates an easy-to-use reference point for the variety of actions going on across the country.
Perhaps most importantly, after ingesting this information I crafted the Meaningful Student Involvement series, four publications focused on engaging students as partners in school change. I think I threw down a powerful gauntlet in that time period, as it continues to motivate and inspire a variety of players, including the U.S. Department of Education, student-led groups nationwide, and partners in countries around the world. I continued evolving my own thinking with exposure to new and growing initiatives nationwide that brought me in to consult, train, evaluate, and otherwise guide their work. I introduced the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum in 2007, and my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement in 2009.
We must get past those initial times though, as they are virtually olden days now. The next big leap in student voice is to go all the way towards what could appear to be awesome extremities in schools. I am not quite sure what this looks like right now; however, after examining the scaffolding students need to be successful in student-adult partnerships, I am beginning to see a new pattern emerge. More about that later.
In the meantime, take a look around SoundOut and let me know what you think!