Barriers to Students on School Boards

This is the SoundOut Students On School Boards Toolkit by Adam Fletcher. It includes research, examples and more. SoundOut offers professional development and training! For more information contact us.

This article highlights barriers to students on school boards. These include attitudes, actions, and outcomes that stop, slow down or otherwise prevent students on school boards.

What gets in the way of students being on school boards?

Unfortunately, there are many. The most immediately challenges are on the surface: the form and function of their involvement; whether they’re advisors, representatives or members; whether they can vote or note; how they are selected, etc. Following are some more of the barriers.

Barrier #1. Representative student leaders = Indirect student voice

As many educators will note, young people are often more than willing to “tell it like it is.”  Yet young people can often sense the underlying motivations and true commitment levels of their coaches, teachers, principals, and administrators.  To obtain the most meaningful contributions, honesty and respect must be established and maintained.  There must be a commitment from the education agency or school leader not only to seek student input, but to seek input from the entire range of students who need to be engaged.

Barrier #2. Types of Involvement

Including a full voting student member on the state board is good, and states such as Massachusetts and Hawai‘i should be applauded and imitated for their elaborate and democratic systems of student participation. Every state should seek authentic, empowering and engaging forms of Meaningful Student Involvement on school boards.

In fact, all states involving students in even the smallest of ways should be commended for their respect of students and their understanding that students can offer invaluable insight about educational systems designed for them.

Meaningful Student Involvement should not be restricted to the state or district levels.  Every principal, every teacher and every parent should have such a faith in students they are charged with educating by moving beyond simply listening to student voice and towards engaging students as partners throughout the education system.

Barrier #3. Input or Involvement?

Unfortunately, even student input is not as abundant. In reality, there are still administrators, principals, and teachers who do not believe that all students can learn, nor that low performing, “alternative,” or minority students can offer valuable insights into the educational process. These students demand more than simple student voice; they are yearning to be treated as partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout the education system.

As we focus on a generation plagued by achievement gaps and more, we must engage students as partners through Meaningful Student Involvement. Faithfully seeking students who challenge educators to address the pressing educational needs of today by involving students on school boards is one way to foster that change.

How to Move Beyond These Barriers

Reaching proficiency and closing the achievement gaps both require the participation of students, in leadership, advisory, and decision-making roles.  Including students in education system decision-making in a step. Engaging students as education researchers is another, as are school planning, classroom teaching, learning evaluation and education advocacy.

Yet we must also take advantage of the opportunity to improve upon the work of others by tailoring the process to meet our unique needs.  We must empower ourselves by empowering our students.  Only by actively seeking Meaningful Student Involvement for all students in all school in all places at all times will students reach their full potential. Students on school boards is one way there.

Here are three ways to move beyond these barriers.

1. Shift individual attitudes towards students.

This means talking, teaching and otherwise changing the minds and transforming the hearts of students, teachers, building leaders, support staff, parents and others who are affected by students on school boards. This can happen by sharing links, pics, stories, research and more, as well as by offering training and other learning opportunities.

2. Improve the collective culture within your education system.

Education systems start at home, extend to the classroom, engulf schools and are reflected by district and state school agencies. Improving the culture of education is no small task, and can take months and years. Start with step #1 above, and then work broader to change everyone possible.

3. Transform education.

The tallest order is changing the entire structure of education, from curriculum and assessment, teaching and culture to shifting the policies, practices, procedures and outcomes expected. From positioning students on school boards to enacting statewide laws mandating Meaningful Student Involvement throughout districts, transforming education is the end goal and deep process for addressing the barriers described in this article.

Students on School Boards Toolkit

Students on School Boards in Canada

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Elsewhere Online

School Boards of the Future by Adam Fletcher

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