Adam Fletcher Advocating Youth Engagement in Communities

The crisis of disengagement facing youth today is shameful. There are so many issues youth can become active in and so many actions they can take our communities have no reason not to engage every youth and every adult everywhere all the time. But somehow, they don’t. Adam Fletcher works with nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to build youth engagement throughout communities.

Following are Adam Fletcher’s tools for youth engagement in communities. Contact him.

 

Adam Fletcher’s Tools Supporting Youth Engagement in Communities

Adam Fletcher’s Books

  1. The Practice of Youth Engagement
  2. Facing Adultism
  3. The Freechild Project Guide to Youth-Driven Programs

Adam Fletcher’s Free Publications

  1. Youth Engagement in the Economy
  2. A Short Guide to Holistic Youth Development
  3. The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide
  4. A Short Intro to Youth Rights
  5. Youth Voice Toolkit
  6. Youth Engagement Workshop Guide
  7. Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change
  8. Washington Youth Voice Handbook
  9. Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People

Adam Fletcher’s Website on Youth Engagement

Adam Fletcher’s Articles

Adam Fletcher’s Services Supporting Youth Engagement in Communities

 


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Click here for Adam Fletcher’s resources onAdam Fletcher promotes youth engagement in schools

Continuing to Learn from Meaningful Student Involvement

Transformative Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement
Want to learn more about this? Send me an email for an exclusive article! adam@soundout.org

Since 2002, working through SoundOut, I have worked with more than 10,000 K-12 students and educators in schools across the United States and Canada.

Over the last year, I have been a bit consumed by writing the Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook. Its my complete compendium of what I have learned about engaging students as partners throughout the education system.

In my reflections, I have found four themes constantly emerge from my projects. These are lessons for me that I will continue to teach people into the future.

  • Unacknowledged capability: Students of all ages, identities, achievement levels, and social backgrounds are fully capable of becoming partners throughout education, but are rarely engaged in equitable partnerships that allow them to take action.
  • Untapped wisdom: Students have a lot to say about the schools they are attending and the education they’re receiving, but rarely feel like adults want to hear what they say.
  • Undelivered invitations: Students are almost never invited to participate in school governance, educational research, learning evaluations or substantive decision-making about classroom instruction, school improvement or educational leadership.
  • Unmet human resources: Adults are craving more human resources throughout schools, but rarely consider students as potential partners who could lighten the load and secure success.

I have tried hard to document dozens of cases of Meaningful Student Involvement and describe how handfuls of students are engaged in planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, making decisions, and advocating for their own learning, as well as throughout the education system as a whole. In each case, these lessons shine through. They also shown through my own projects in dozens of states and a few countries. Its a consistent pattern, yet fraught with hope.

As I assess my big ole picture of student/adult partnerships, I am left wondering about how important Meaningful Student Involvement will become to the education system. We cannot be satisfied with tokenizing students, or simplistic attempts to listen to student voice. Instead, we want to transform all of learning, teaching and leadership.

Onward we go!

Are You REALLY Committed to #StudentVoice?

Adam training youth at Eastern Washington University in 2012.
Adam training youth at Eastern Washington University in 2012.

Are you really committed to engaging student voice?

If you’re an educator, administrator, policymaker or adult ally to student voice anywhere throughout the education system, you need to check yourself. We all do.

When working with students as an ally, its important to keep the focus on them instead of shifting it from them to us as adults. We should not, must not and cannot use students to say what we want them to. More than simply being unfair, adults who use student voice for our own agenda are being dishonest and unethical.

Here are eight questions all adults can all ask ourselves to find out whether we’re genuinely committed to student voice.

Student Voice Commitment Test

  1. Do I believe all student voice matters?
  2. Do I believe every learning relationship matters?
  3. Do I believe students aren’t incomplete?
  4. Do I believe total responsibility for learning must be shared with students?
  5. Do I believe students know things?
  6. Do I believe in equity, not equality, between students and educators?
  7. Do I believe schools need to be about learning, teaching AND leadership?
  8. Do I believe student voice requires more than just talking?

Next Steps 

If you answered an unequivocal “yes” to all eight of these questions, you are genuinely committed to student voice.

If you answered “maybe”, “sometimes” or “kinda” to any of these questions, then you are on the road to commitment. I’d recommend you order my book, The Guide to Student VoiceIt provides a short, but deep intro to the depth of student voice.

If you answered “no”, “never” or “not a chance” to any of these questions, but you want to learn more, check out my free ebook, Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change.

No matter what you do, consider doing something right now to engage student voice. They aren’t waiting for you, and if you personally don’t do something right now, schools are going to continue their slide towards the future by becoming more and more irrelevant to learning, teaching and leadership throughout our society.

Don’t Let Students Be Misunderstood

All educators are well-meaning in their intentions for students. Nobody wants students to fail, no matter how poorly they are paid, how discriminatory they may be, or how brief/long they’ve worked in schools, there is no teacher, administrator, support staff or other adult in schools who overtly wants students to fail.

Adults in schools genuinely want students to get good jobs and have successful lives. They create activities and opportunities, programs and entire organizations that intend to promote students success, in ways that many adults define it: Future-oriented, success equates to having good educations, nuclear families, and successful employment, which means a great paycheck and a powerful position.

Students who don’t aspire to that vision of success are looked upon suspiciously. They are given labels and stigmatized constantly, and their version of success is frowned upon by adults. These students are given many descriptions, and are oftentimes said to be:

  • Deficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills
  • Disconnected or at-risk of disconnecting from home and/or school
  • Facing disabilities
  • Coming from low-income families
  • Experiencing past, present, or chronic homelessness
  • Living in foster care or transitioning out of foster care
  • Experiencing pregnancy or parenting
  • Having a criminal record
  • Being court involved
  • Being gang involved
  • Experiencing substance abuse

 

Unfortunately, these descriptions show how we’re misunderstanding students.

3 Ways to REALLY Understand Students

If we are serious about student engagement, we have to understand what really disengages them right now. Here are three ways to REALLY understand students.

  1. Understand that ALL Students ARE Engaged in Learning Right Now—We Just Don’t Recognize That. With so many different avenues for educational engagement, including production, innovation, distribution, consumption, deconstruction and re-invention, the overwhelmingly vast majority of students are engaged in the learning right now. However, adults aren’t acknowledging how this is happening.
  2. Understand that Students are Engaged in Other Activities—We Simply Don’t Validate Their Importance. Even if they’ve dropped out, left home, or play video games all day, students are engaged in all kinds of things that are educational. They can be engaged in friendships, skateboarding, fashion, music, video gaming, cars and anything else in which they have a sustained connection. Because of that, they can also be engaged in things adults see as negative, like drugs, alcohol, sex and vandalism. If adults want students to become engaged in learning, we have to present them with something of equal or greater value to become engaged in—after we learn what they are currently engaged in.
  3. Understand that Students have been Taught to be Disengaged—And We Are Responsible for That, Too. Through television, at school, in their family lives, and throughout our communities, students are routinely taught to be disengaged. Parents and teachers constantly make decisions for students without students while politicians and business owners choose what students need without them, as well. However, a magic day comes when adults insist students automatically become engaged in what adults want them to. When that doesn’t happen we become frustrated and confused. Its no wonder why—imagine what its like for students themselves!

These are three ways to REALLY understand students. If you want to engage students in schools, it is important to understand these ways, because every students experiences some part of them right now.

Why It Matters

When faced with students who fit the descriptions above, adults in a variety of roles make immediate decisions based on them. They decide what students’ behaviors, attitudes, ideas and beliefs are without ever talking directly with them. In many cases, employers, teachers, social workers and others decide these students are disengaged. Because of that, they brush past them in interviews, ignore them in classes, or release them from services that might be vital to these students.

Student disengagement is often presented as a viral disease that sweeps through particular populations of students, like those listed above. This is especially true when talking about high school, where disengagement leads to students becoming “failed learners”. This view is often presented with research by its side, including claims that student engagement in the economy is determined by the income levels of families of origin more than other effects. However, correlation is not causation, and a lot of this research is presented from a lopsided perspective.

How To Change It

If we really want to address student disengagement in schools, we have to really understand students. Here are three ways to do that.

  • Acknowledge Student Engagement in Learning Right Now. Look at these seven parts of learning: Innovation, Creation, Development, Distribution, Consumption, Deconstruction, and Re-invention. Every single student is engaged in at least one of these parts right now. Alas, schools might not value their learning engagement, but that doesn’t mean students aren’t educationally engaged. Students are educationally engaged if they are writing apps for cell phones; reading magazines during school; running a lawn mowing business; knitting scarves for their friends; buying the latest songs online; recycling soda cans to save the planet; or taking apart old TVs and rebuilding them into something else. If you want to change your understanding of students, start seeing how they’re engaged in learning right now.
  • Validate the Importance of Every Form of Student Engagement. If you aren’t happy with the ways students are engaged in learning right now, try seeing the other things they’re sustainably connected to right now. Learning is woven throughout their lives, and every kind of student engagement benefits every part of the education. That means if students are sustainably connected to sports, they’re learning; if they’re engaged in comic books, they’re learning; if they’re deeply committed to learning about any topic, they’re learning. If you want to understand students, validate the importance of every form of student engagement.
  • Acknowledge You are Responsible for the Problem, and can be Part of the Solution. No generation has created the challenges it faces, and none is solely responsible for creating the solutions. However, if more people are going to understand students, we need to recognize that each of us is partly responsible for this challenge—and for the solution. This isn’t some grandiose charge, either. Its an earnest call for practical, meaningful action throughout schools right now. You have to take that responsibility in order for things to be different.

These are important considerations for educators to keep in mind when they are trying to help students graduate; learn about social issues; train students to do a particular job; teach life skills to students; make policies and regulations for students; and much more. They should be kept in mind by programs, classes, organizations, curriculum writers, and others who promote student engagement.

When we work from these places, we will see dramatic improvements in student engagement. That includes better classroom outcomes, learning goals, lifetime prospects, and much more. If we fail to acknowledge these realities, a different future is waiting than anything that’s been anticipated.

A Renewed SoundOut Program

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Challenging Student Voice

Recently I was discussing the latest developments happening in the mainstream education conversation today. Student voice is bubbling up more and more frequently across the radar, with folks ranging from curriculum writers to test makers talking about it. Of course, educators continue to share their thoughts on social media, along with students themselves. This is all very powerful, and a wonderful development to finally see emerge after more than a dozen years on the national circuit promoting student voice throughout education.

Increasingly though, I’m concerned about the direction that student voice is taking. It seems most conversations are intent on tokenizing student voice, minimizing the roles students can play in schools. Last year I released a book called The Guide to Student Voice in order to help shift this conversation and move it towards a more holistic, powerful picture of what students can do.

Re-Launch!

Today, I’m pleased to announce the re-release of the SoundOut Program. Based on a curriculum I developed in 2007, today the SoundOut Program has operated in more than 25 districts across the U.S. and Canada, and has been adapted in Australia, Brazil and the U.K. too. With my new promotion, I’m glad to bundle the curriculum itself in several new ways, featuring new elements and activities, and building new relationships with districts and state agencies around the world.

Features now include:

  • Lesson plans for classes, programs and events
  • Professional development
  • Evaluations
  • Technical assistance
  • And more!

Let’s move student voice further! Check out the SoundOut Program and learn how!

The Hidden Curriculum of Student Voice

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Student voice teaches students and adults. If you agree with that idea, then you’ll want to learn about the hidden curriculum of student voice.

Tucked into the heart of this is the understanding of the hidden curriculum of schools. The hidden curriculum of schools shows us that there are the things we teach on purpose, and then there are the things we teach inadvertently, accidentally, by coincidence, or simply without stating what our intentions are. Things like having seats in rows and students raise hands are part of the hidden curriculum; deeper though are things like teaching about wealthy, Anglo-centric males in history to low-income girls from communities of color. This can teach these students that the contributions of poor people, brown and black people, women, and their communities are lesser than those of wealthy white men. In turn, this can teach inferiority and reinforce oppression throughout society. These types lessons are part of the hidden curriculum of schools, teaching students lessons explicitly acknowledging they are teaching students lessons. The hidden curriculum is part of all curricular areas and every teaching methodology.

Student council, student leadership classes, and other student programs do similar things.

In the case of student voice, schools actively teach students to hide, hold, and change their voices according to the expectations of adults. We do that through a variety of subtle and overt mechanisms that stifle, suffocate, mimic and manipulate students. These include honor roles, attendance, rules, and punishments that are all among the many overt ways we pummel the natural and innate desire of young people to learn. Other examples include having middle class teachers in low-income communities; segregating young students from adult learners during formal learning activities; and using grades and test scores to dictate success. Still other examples include teaching some students, but not most, about student voice; to engage a few students in powerful roles not traditionally for students; or excusing the “right” students to go to the school district offices while leaving every other student behind. All of this has the cumulative effect of changing student voice, or stopping it all together.

Among many lessons, these practices teach students:

  • Their authentic voices are bad and that adults must approve of what they are saying;
  • “Learning” must be hard and doesn’t require student desire or feedback;
  • In order for learning and student voice to be valid, it must be accepted by adults.
  • Above all, students must seek adult approval for all “valid” forms of student voice

 

If a student does not follow these lessons, they are punished with punitive, coercive and largely arbitrary judgments and actions bestowed upon them by omnipotent adults. Censure, suspension and expulsion await student voice that does not conform.

All of this teaches students to hide, hold, and change student voice in schools. There are a lot more subtle gestures, but this is meant to kind of introduce the notion of the hidden curriculum that informs student voice practices.

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

Following are reflection questions focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. Find resources to challenge these barriers at SoundOut.org.

 

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

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  1. Are barriers to student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement being addressed?
  2. What steps are taken to ensure that student voice is meaningful?
  3. Do students understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes?
  4. Do students know who made the decisions about their engagement and why they were made?
  5. Is the input of students recorded, reported in writing, and distributed?
  6. Do students receive a report (verbal or in writing) on the decisions made in the light of their input?
  7. Were false and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate deliberately addressed by students and/or adults?
  8. Are all adults clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement?
  9. Do adults support Meaningful Student Involvement?
  10. Do adults provide good examples of being personally and systemically engaged?
  11. How was students’ inexperience addressed?
  12. Did students work on issues that they clearly identify as important?
  13. Did students participating start with short-term goals and activities?
  14. Have students and adults identified and, when possible, corrected negative experiences students have had in participation?
  15. What steps were taken to reduce the resistance from adults?
  16. Has there been a written policy statement developed from the governing body?
  17. Has there been a memo/document from the school leader stating their support, encouragement, and commitment to aningful Student Involvement?
  18. Has the principal or superintendent introduced Meaningful Student Involvement at a meeting?
  19. Have there been social events organized to increase positive interactions between students and adults?
  20. Have joint workshops with students and adults been held?
  21. Has a plan been put in place to bring students into the mainstream, core activities of the class or school?
  22. Have steps been taken to help students fit into adult structures?
  23. Have students been placed on an adult decision-making body with support from a designated adult?
  24. Does someone meet with students before meetings to help them clarify their objectives for the meeting?
  25. Do students feel comfortable about asking for clarification?
  26. What steps have been taken to make the location and times of meetings convenient to students?
    1. Consulting with the students involved about times/dates of meetings
    2. Choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation
  27. Are there any other initiatives or changes going on in the class or school (new programs, restructuring, etc.) that will compete for attention with the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement?
  28. How are the student members selected so that they are credible to the student body?
  29. How do you know that they are credible?

 

These are some basic questions that can be useful to initiatives that are focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. There are no absolutely right answers to ever question, because these activities are gradual and take time to unfold. Ones that appear far ahead can collapse onto themselves and fall back to the lowest common denominator.

 

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For more information, order a copy of The Guide to Student Voice by Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/The-Guide-Student-Voice-Edition/dp/0692217320

Student Voice Is Not The Same As Student Engagement

Student Voice ≠ Student Engagement. Learn more at SoundOut.org

With more and more people increasingly jumping on the bandwagons of student voice and student engagement, it is becoming increasingly important to define, refine and understand what it is that we’re talking about. It is equally important to critically examine the assumptions informing a lot of this conversation and action, as well as the implications, impacts and processes throughout.

A lot of well-meaning people are throwing around phrases without really understanding what they are talking about. People are using student voice as a synonym for student engagement. All the while, they are discussing activities that are the exclusive domain of either concept as if they were. That’s all problematic for a few reasons…

 

 

Want to read more?

Order SoundOut Student Voice Series #2: Student Voice and Student Engagement by Adam Fletcher.

 

 

Selling Students Short

We are selling students short. Many of the very organizations, programs, and agencies that are engaging student voice are oftentimes blindsiding their targets.

I say we are selling students short because student voice is often inauthentic. Students are incapacitated from participating fully in conversations about schools.

What Makes Student Voice Inauthentic

  • Little Adults: Pulled from their schools, in order to share student voice, students are expected to talk how adults talk, dress how adults dress, and act like adults act.
  • Taught their Opinions: Drilled in the importance of a specific issue that adults have determined they need to hear student voice focused on, adults teach students adults’ perspectives only. After that, they ask students to stand up for that issue in the ways adults agree with.
  • Little or No Room for Dissent. With or without being conscious of it, students whose voices are heard by adults eagerly comply with adults. Those who don’t comply aren’t given room to disagree, and are frequently railroaded out of student voice activities.
  • No Credit for Participation. Adult educators are often paid for their time to participate in extra-curricular activities. Students receive little or no credit for participating, whether in the form of money or class credit. Students who can’t afford to skip classes or attend at night are excluded from activities.

Working with many situations over the years, I have found these traits and a few others to be relatively consistent, and I believe that ultimately, it is selling students short.

As I share regularly in teacher workshops, professional development seminars, and keynote speeches, Student Voice is any expression of any learner in any place about education. It is NOT only things adults approve of, and is so much more than what generally passes for student voice today.

Students deserve more than opportunities to share student voice. That is why I researched the field and worked with students and adults nationally and internationally to develop my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. When students become interested in changing schools, we should work our hardest to position them as active partners in transformation, and nothing less than that.

Learn how at www.soundout.org and contact me for more info.

Summerhill School

I [heart] Summerhill. If you don’t know, Summerhill School is located in the United Kingdom. It was started in 1921 by A.S. Neill and has become a role model for democratic education and youth power around the world.

Following are episodes from the UK documentary show entitled, “Summerhill.” It dramatizes the school’s struggle to stay open in the face of government pressure to conform to standards. I hope you enjoy the show and the lessons it embodies, and I’d love to hear what you think.