Students Speak Out on Ideal Schools

A student presenting at a SoundOut Speak Out event.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by the work of Charlie Kouns and David Loitz through Imaging Learning. Working in a handful of locations across the country, they’ve been having powerful conversations with students about what, where, why, when, and how learning happens best for them. I really admire their passion, and I think what they’re doing is important work.

Following is an activity from the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum that I first wrote in 2007 after running a series of SoundOut Speak Outs across the country. From my conversations with Charlie and David, I think the Speak Outs were similar to the Imagining Learning series.
This activity can be used in a variety of settings, and provides a structured, replicable process teachers, youth workers, and others can use to get students thinking about their ideal schools.

Feel free to use it, and if you copy it into anything printed please give me credit. CommonAction is always available to facilitate a session focused on this activity, and many others in our tool belt. I’d also (easily, gladly, and strongly) recommend that you consider hosting an Imagine Learning session!

Activity: Ideal Schools 

  1. Break students into teams of 4-8 for groups of 8 and larger. 
  2. Give each team a large piece of paper and provide each group with a collection of creative materials, i.e. markers, pens, color pencils, etc.
  3. Ask each team to draw the outline of a school in the middle of the paper. They can make it any size, depending on how important they think the school building is to learning. 
  4. When their outlines are complete, teams should work together to draw an image of their “ideal school” without using any words. Encourage students to fill the paper with characteristics or abilities that an ideal school would have. For example, they might draw big doors on the school to indicate the ability for students to learn outside the building, or fill the rest of the page with other places students can learn. 
  5. Ask each team to present their creation. As students report out, create a master list of characteristics as each team reports back. 
  6. Reflect on the activity by asking:

  • Which characteristics do you think are most important? Why?
  • Are these realistic? Why or Why not? 
  • (If in a broke-up class) How do you feel about the ideal school the other teams came up with?
  • Do you have any concerns?
  • Would you add anything? 

Keep the drawings hanging around the classroom to remind students what they are striving for.

I believe these types of conversations are an entryway to Meaningful Student Involvement, creating vital views of what students think about schools. However, the conversation shouldn’t end there. If you’re interested in learning more about what’s next, check out the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum or check out our education catalog

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing or calling (360)489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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.

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