In a climate where more attention is being paid to student voice in the classroom, many are asking how school boards might approach incorporating students into their work in a way that goes beyond inviting someone to report on Homecoming festivities.
Bring SoundOut to your school district or conference for a workshop dedicated to understanding the power of student voice and the possibilities of student representation on the board of education. Adam Fletcher, a leading expert on student voice and representation, explores the benefits, challenges and opportunities for engaging students in the work of boards in a deep and meaningful way.
Workshop outcomes include participants…
Learning what student voice is, what it does, who it is for and how it happens;
Exploring roles for students on school boards, including activities, topics and outcomes that are appropriate for them, and;
Understanding how students are engaged on boards, including recruitment, training, maintaining and evaluating their roles.
Creating powerful, practical and effective learning opportunities should the goal of every educator committed to Meaningful Student Involvement. When students have voice, authority, and take action to improve in learning, they find meaning in what they’re doing. Working to build student commitment to community, democracy and education requires Meaningful Student Involvement in learning.
Learning design happens before education happens in schools. While it cannot and should not capture every single part of the educative process, learning design should consider several important elements. Each of these can affect Meaningful Student Involvement, and can be affected by Meaningful Student Involvement.
Elements of Learning Design
Designing learning includes deciding what you’re going to teach, how you’re going to teach it, who is going to teach, and what the outcomes are going to be. Educators call this learning design.
Meaningful student involvement in learning design can center on infusing the Cycle of Student Engagement into whatever activity you’re facilitating. You can learn about the Cycle here »
When you’re considering meaningfully involving students in designing learning, you might start with authorizing them to take action by introducing the learning to them. To do this, you can share with students why they are learning a specific topic. Teach them about engagement styles and teaching habits, and ask them what the best possible ways there are to learn specific materials. Show them primary materials, tools, timelines, deadlines, related topics, and specific deliverables from the learning.
Teach students that the way learning is designed affects all learners both positively and otherwise. Encourage them to ask critical questions and share their authentic responses. Ultimately, show them how their perspectives on learning an issue are informed by the ways that issue is taught both within and outside of the classroom, and that all learning extends far beyond the classroom walls. This is Meaningful Student Involvement in learning design.
There is a lot of action happening to support Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania. This work is substantive and sustained, and will transform education. Following is a summary of different tools, examples and more from Pennsylvania specifically.
Meaningful Student Involvement is not a new phenomenon in Pennsylvania. Student voice has been making itself heard statewide for decades, too. In one example from 1968, on the day following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 250 African American students at William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, refused to attend class. Instead the students quietly barricaded themselves in the auditorium of the school to commence Black Pride Day. (Wright D. C., 2003) This is student voice in action.
Student involvement in wellness goals was promoted by having students work with local education agencies to develop Local Wellness Policies. Participating in the research, evaluation and re-design of school nutrition policies, student engagement was shown to increase, as did student acceptance in an array of health-related areas. Research found this approach may have promise in the area of obesity prevention. (Jomaa, L. H., E. McDonnell, et al. (2010) “Student Involvement in Wellness Policies: A Study of Pennsylvania Local Education Agencies,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 42(6): 372-379)
Another example of systems change is SoundOut’s work in Pennsylvania with the Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time (APOST). We supported building the understanding of Meaningful Student Involvement with that network in the early 2010s with materials, speaking and training.
There are a great deal of resources to support Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania. For instance, a lot of research has been conducted regarding students’ roles in education, including a 1972 survey of 318 administrators in Ohio and Pennsylvania that indicated 60% planning some kind of student participation in decision-making. In this study, the author claims to have found more instances of constructive student actions and involvement than are reported in the current literature. (Yarnel, E.B. (1972) Student Involvement as an Administrative Technique in Decision Making by the Chief School Officer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ohio University.)
Here are more tools about Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania
“NO RACISM ALLOWED,” announced a loud banner across the school’s entrance. I’d come this high school in Michigan to train the new SoundOut Student Equity Team, and was greeted by a handful of students.
As we walked through the hallways on a winter day in 2018, I listed to stories from the students about their work to challenge white supremacy in the education system. It was an alternative high school for historically disengaged learners in a mid-sized urban school districts. The students led training for their peers and teachers, and the building was known for being progressive. It was an inspiring experience.
During our workshop focused on Meaningful Student Involvement, the students talked openly about white supremacy, white fragility, willful ignorance, whitesplaining and all bias, especially discrimination and hatred against Black people, American Indians, and other people of color. All sophomores and juniors, they shared that in their careers as students they’d experienced these realities directly as racist slurs, white supremacist curriculum, the school-to-prison pipeline and other hate-filled, explicitly discriminatory activities in schools. However, they also said that white supremacy poisoned their experiences from their youngest years through micro-aggressions and other toxic behaviors by teachers, principals and other students, including being facetious, making light, being condescending, gaslighting and otherwise demeaning, belittling, or insulting Black people, American Indians, and other people of color.
White Supremacy in Student Voice
Do your student voice activities reflect these traits? These traits are damaging to both students of color and white students. They reflect predominant white culture, and should be addressed and dismantled through Meaningful Student Involvement.
Perfectionism, instead of a culture of appreciation
Sense of Urgency, instead of realistic workplans and outcomes
Defensiveness, instead of understanding that school cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse
Quantity Over Quality, instead of fostering processes and quality goals in your planning
Worship of the Written Word, instead of accepting that there are many ways to get to the same goal
Paternalism or Adultism, instead of making sure that all students know and understand who makes what decisions in the class, program, school and education system
Either/Or Thinking, instead of noticing when students use either/or language and pushing to come up with more than two alternatives
Power Hoarding, instead of including power sharing in your class, program, school and education system’s values statement
Fear of Open Conflict, instead of handling conflict before conflict happens and distinguishing between being polite and raising hard issues
Individualism, instead of honoring students based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals
Progress is Bigger, More, instead of fostering deep impact, meaningful processes, and holistic outcomes of all involved
Objectivity, instead of realizing that every student has their own world view and that every student’s world view affects the way they understand things
Right to Comfort, instead of understanding that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning
The reason I was there was to learn with them about how Meaningful Student Involvement has no room for racism. Ultimately, we resolved that white supremacy should be canceled from every student voice activity of any kind. These students were determined to immediately and completely address all white supremacy in their schools, whether from other students expressing internalized racism, or from educators who were resistant or ignorant of their own indiscretions and hatred for students of color. They were determined to make their school stop being racist.
Unfortunately, in my experience working with hundreds of schools nationwide, this isn’t the case across the United States. A lot of well-meaning but poorly informed student voice activities inadvertently reflect an overwhelming trend towards white supremacy, including featuring white student voice as representative of all student voice; homogenizing student leadership and acting as if small elite groups of designated student leaders can represent large swaths of the student body effectively, and otherwise diminishing the capacity, power and possibilities of African American, Latino/a and Hispanic, American Indian and other students of color to share their voices in positive ways throughout the education system in order to affect curriculum, learning, teaching and leadership.
Worse still, most of the current practices in student voice clearly and wholly minimize and undermine the tremendous ways that students can be meaningfully involved in the entire functioning of schools, including the teaching of classes; research of educational practices; planning curriculum, calendars and policies; evaluation of learning, teaching and climates; decision-making at all levels; and advocacy for what students themselves believe in.
The potential of students becoming substantively involved in determining the course of their own learning, let alone leading the entire education system, is regularly dismissed by educators who claim the lack of students’ abilities, skills and knowledge is the undoing of Meaningful Student Involvement. However, more than twenty years of research clearly shows otherwise.
I am beginning to understand that these concerns are merely convenient cloaks for “keeping kids in their place.” By denying their roles, adults everywhere are working hard to ensure the status quo is maintained. Today, however, we know this is merely the defense of white supremacy everywhere. In order to confront our collective racism, white supremacy, willful ignorance, and ANY bias against students of color, every school with every grade everywhere across the country must shift to Meaningful Student Involvement immediately.
SoundOut facilitates learning activities in K-12 schools across the United States and Canada! During the 2020-2021 school year, we’re providing highly interactive, action-oriented online workshops focusing on…
MEANINGFUL STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
Engaging ALL Students in Meaningful Ways
Students as Partners in School Improvement
Infusing Meaningful Student Involvement throughout Education
Ending White Supremacy in Student Involvement
How To Engage Student Voice in Schools
Empowering Student Identity
Building School Leadership through Student Voice
Moving from Student Voice to Meaningful Student Involvement
Want to learn more? Call our office at (360) 489-9680 or contact us.
Getting mad, fighting pointlessly against adults or simply acting out can stifle student voice. When students organize for school transformation, they can fight together with unified voices for social justice and against unfairness in education. Engaging students as activists can be an empowering learning experience that transforms education in deep ways.
There are many things activists do. Picketing, surveying, protesting, letter writing and different ways of activating to change schools can be powerful levers to make a difference. Student activists can act alone, or with other people to produce immediate results, all affecting their local schools, districts and state education systems.
Responsive student voices challenge adults to listen in new ways for what’s happening among and within students RIGHT NOW. It offers critical, assertive and direct expressions of learners about what is current and essential in their experience. This article explores what it looks like in practice.
Understanding Student Responsiveness
Exploring what a situation, example, tradition or outcome means to them, responsive student voice positions young people as substantial contributors and partners in the school improvement process. Their visions are honored; their experiences are centralized, and; their wisdom, knowledge, ideas, opinions and values are respected.
Although on first glance it might look the same, responsive student voice is different from typical student voice in several ways. SoundOut has found it is distinguished by immediacy, relevance, intensity and response.
Adults often don’t understand or immediately dismiss the hyper-intense expressions of students in schools. Labelled as distractions or viewed as “inconvenient,” here I introduce “responsive student voice” as a new way of contextualizing spastic-appearing but still essential wisdom, knowledge, actions and ideas from students.
Examples of Responsive Student Voice
Responsive student voice can have a lot of different appearances and expressions. They can include:
Student Speakout—At this event, student or adult facilitators can create space for students to speak their piece about what’s happening within a school. Focused on creating a safe and supportive environment for student voice, these events can respond to the most urgent issues at hand.
Fighting—Appearing as bullying or unchecked expression, fighting can be a powerful form of responsive student voice that tells educators a school feels unsafe, students feel vulnerable, and communication has broken down, along with many other lessons. Students make themselves heard; adults often simply respond with punishment. Fighting result in intentional community-building and much more.
Letters to the Editor—Writing about specific, critical and urgent situations with realistic suggestions for substantive action can be a direct way for student voice to be heard.
Graffiti—In spaces where learners cannot address adults, educators, administrators and others directly, strategic graffiti can provide students with an obvious, impactful voice that is otherwise stifled. When the art reflects current issues students face in schools, this can be a very impactful avenue for responsive student voice.
Learning Projects—Educators can create spaces for students to express themselves while learning through active, expressive learning projects within classrooms. Its essential for these projects to grant credit and for educators to acknowledge that sharing student voice about education is a valid way to learn.
Because of the confrontational appearance of some responsive student voice, it is important to understand that responsive student voice is often not intended for adultsto hear; instead, its meant for students to speak out to each other. However, as responsible educators we have an obligation to listen between the words and make sense of what might seem senseless.
Listen for responsive student voice and respond to this article in the comments section below.
Students, educators and advocates constantly search for ways to evaluate the efficacy of their efforts to engage students. After more than 15 years of experience, the following rubric was developed by Adam Fletcher for SoundOut.org to serve as a personal status check to recognize whether or not student engagement is successful.