Raise the Bar for Student Voice

Student voice happens in so many ways throughout schools. Research shows “enculturated behaviors” are another way they happen.

Enculturated behaviors are the attitudes shared throughout a group of adults and students that form the culture of a school. They are obvious in the ways students and teachers anticipate each others’ actions and reactions. Both parties—students and teachers—demonstrate enclurated behavior in order to inadvertently manipulate the others’ responses.

This is student voice at work.

Last summer when I was consulting a summer program at a school in Seattle, I walked past a classroom and saw a very disgusted look on a teacher’s face. When I asked why he replied, “The bored student problem. Those students who sit there all day and don’t look like they care at all, like there’s so many other things he could be doing with his time.”
This is student voice at work. Student voice—which is any expression of any student about education—is apparent in the responses like “the bored student problem.” Students who look bored or say they’re bored are demonstrating a conditioned response which is part of the enculturated behaviors within schools today.
Teachers see this particular conditioned response all the time in schools. It’s generally accepted in most classrooms, as students simply occupy seats and adults become more and more unconcerned about whether they’re engaged or actually learning. 
New research reinforces this idea. And, of course, there’s pushouts in schools, but that’s a whole other topic. 


Adults don’t actively accept this conditioned response because it’s enculturated. They generally don’t even see it. They think it’s normal because they witness other adults—including teachers, principals, parents, family members, businesses, politicians, and others—accepting “the bored student problem” and treating young people this way. In some schools, it’s even the norm for the majority of student voice to be demonstrated this way.
This acceptance has led to adults thinking little of students. Without any evidence to the contrary, many people working in education believe students are the passive recipients of adult-driven learning. They don’t know that more than ever, young people are ready to be active partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout the education system.
Unfortunately, because this type of student voice is enculturated, students themselves don’t know what they’re capable of, and often believe everything adults believe, too. As the adage goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. We can do better than this, because as a whole, we know more than our enculturated behaviors prove.
Meaningful Student Involvement increases the degrees of possibility that students and adults in schools know. It shows a wider range of roles, deeper potentials for learning, and truer pathways for education that everyone in school can benefit from.
With all the emergent organizations and programs seeking to promote student voice, including Student Voice, Imagining Learning, Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST)Youth Converts Culture, and many others, I want to encourage everyone to learn about the degrees of possibility for student voice. Instead of having a static expression, activity, or concept of student voice, we should throw the doors open and let students lead us.
Here’s to the future!

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

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *