Stop Calling For Student Voice

  • Students tapping their pencils on their desks, texting answers to tests back and forth, and throwing pencils into the ceiling tiles… 
  • Answering questions when asked, participating intently in classroom discussions, and having focused small group conversations… 
  • Teachers integrating students’ stories from their own lives into classroom curriculum, students teaching each other about complex concepts out of class, and students providing solicited critiques of teachers to improve the style, form, and substance of classrooms…
  • Fighting in the hallways, passing notes during class, smoking behind the school building, and skipping class to go to the movies…
  • Students giving testimony about cell phone usage at school board meetings, researching the effects of the school to prison pipeline, and rallying their communities about school funding issues…


ALL OF THESE are student voice. They happen every day in schools, at all grade levels, and with all kinds of students. While some are warmer and fuzzier than others, and while each of us wants to see some happen and not others, all occur at some point every single day.

Last week I called for adults to stop just listening to student voice. Instead, we need something more than that. When done alone, listening to student voice is merely a pacifying activity designed to drown out the din of 100,000,000 young people surging through the veins of the education system yearning to become powerful, effective learners.

What all students in all schools everywhere need is Meaningful Student Involvement, or MSI. MSI embodies the deliberate re-envisioning of the entirety of the education system in order to integrate students as partners in learning, teaching, and leadership.

MSI moves beyond student voice through the pragmatic, intentional integration of students as partners throughout education. calls teachers- the frontline of all schools- to the carpet and demonstrates practical, pragmatic processes they can use to move beyond listening to student voice. It insists that administrators- the working backbone of all education- to stop doing to students what they can do with students. It positions parents as partners with their children and calls the community to task by showing how they can support real learning beyond volunteering and donations.

Finally, and most importantly, it stops selling students short by saying that their words are enough- because they’re not. Instead of giving the keys to the car to the 16-year-old and telling them to teach themselves to drive, MSI opens the hood and shows students how the engine runs. It strategically teaches them the skills and knowledge they need to become mechanics throughout the education system, as well as designers, operators, owners, attendants, and ultimately, drivers. MSI shows emphatically that students themselves should drive education, the entirety of it, with adults as partners.

Stop calling for student voice, because its already been done before, and its already there. Our schools need Meaningful Student Involvement.

Other posts from this series include:

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

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