1972 Omaha North High School Student Assembly

North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, is my alma mater. Coincidentally, they made strides in student voice advocacy long before I ever got there. Here’s what I have uncovered.

Starting in the late 1960s, students at North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, struggled to promote student voice in school. By the time I was attending the school in the late 1980s and early 90s, there was none of that movement left. But it 1972, student advocates within the school leveraged a conversation with the principal into a plan for building-wide student representation in serious school issues, including budgeting, hiring and firing, curriculum and more.

The students’ plan entailed creating new functions for the extant student council in school, and ensuring the student council more effectively reflected the student population.

While the attached article sounds optimistic, there’s little evidence this plan was either implemented, or if it was, whether it was sustained for very long. However, this does sound a positive note for history, and implies the future is only getting better! Imagine how strong the student voice movement was in 1972 that an urban high school in Omaha, Nebraska was compelled to engage student advocates in serious problem-solving.

 

1972 Omaha student voice
This 1972 article from the Omaha World-Herald is entitled, “Student voice in the schools grows a little.”

 

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2016 SoundOut Summer Camp

The 2016 SoundOut Summer Camp is happening August 1-12 at Cleveland High School in Seattle, Washington. Over the last five years, SoundOut has partnered with Seattle Public Schools to teach more than 100 students how to change the world! This year, we’re teaching students how to TAKE CONTROL of their education and how to MAKE SCHOOLS BETTER.

 

Seattle students at the SoundOut Summer Camp
Students at the 2015 SoundOut Summer Camp at Cleveland High School in Seattle, Washington.

 

The SoundOut Summer Camp is for Cleveland students who want to improve their learning and their school. Everyday includes workshops, activities, games, videos and reading.

By participating (full attendance) in this program, students will receive 0.5 elective credit, and will be able to earn up to 20 service learning hours for participating in continuing activities throughout the school year.

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SoundOut Student Voice Series

The SoundOut Student Voice Series introduces the theory of Meaningful Student Involvement by expert practitioner Adam Fletcher, founder of SoundOut. The books in this series define terms and share mental models; detail benefits; share how to plan action; detail what action looks like; identify learning opportunities; explore how to teach students about school; examine potential barriers and how to overcome them; address assessment; and detail the ultimate outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement. Each of these books is derived from the SoundOut Student Voice Handbook.

 

Books in this Series


Book 1. Making Meaning With Students

Making Meaning With Students - SoundOut Student Voice Series #1 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

The first book is called “Making Meaning With Students” and introduces the theory of Meaningful Student Involvement. This book proposes that all students of all ages are full humans and introduces them as active partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout education, instead of passive recipients. It then highlights a short history of educational circumstances that have treated students as partners, and proposes there is a crisis of purpose in schools today that is solvable through shared responsibility. The book closes by summarizing how schools can change. (74 pages, 2017)

 


Book 2. Student Voice and Student Engagement

Student Voice and Student Engagement - SoundOut Student Voice Series #2 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

Book two focuses on the related notions of student voice and student empowerment. Reviewing two distinct literature fields, it summarizes a wide swath of student voice literature related to curriculum, teaching, classroom management and school reform. It then introduces student engagement as a psychological, emotional and social factor in schools that intersects with student voice. Juxtaposing Meaningful Student Involvement against both of these, this book positions the theory as a distinct, yet related, phenomenon with implications throughout the entirety of the education system. (42 pages, 2017)

 


Book 3. Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement

Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement - SoundOut Student Voice Series #3 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

The third book examines Fletcher’s distinct “frameworks of Meaningful Student Involvement,” which are formed by a series of mental models. Forming the practical basis of Meaningful Student Involvement, these models can guide practitioners and researchers alike. There are seven featured here, including student/adult partnerships; the cycle of engagement; key characteristics; the ladder of student involvement; adult perspectives of students; spheres of meaning; and a learning process. Based in the author’s experience and studies, these models can be vital tools for planning, implementation and assessment of different practices. (92 pages, 2017)

 


Book 4. Benefits of Meaningful Student Involvement

Benefits of Meaningful Student Involvement - SoundOut Student Voice Series #4 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

 

In the next book, Fletcher examines the benefits of this theory. Beginning by explicitly delineating the aims of Meaningful Student Involvement, the book then summarizes the research-based outcomes, in addition to identifying a wide variety of research that supports the theory. The impacts on learning and child and youth development are expanded on, and the book closes by exploring how this research impacts practice and is incorporated into practice. (62 pages, 2017)

 


Book 5. Planning for Meaningful Student Involvement

Planning for Meaningful Student Involvement - SoundOut Student Voice Series #5 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

 

The fifth book explores planning for Meaningful Student Involvement. The book elaborates on different roles throughout the education system to consider, as well as different kinds of students that can become meaningfully involved. Fletcher then identifies the different people and locations throughout education that can engage students as partners, including individual schools, local districts, state and provincial agencies, and federal agencies. There is a long list of issues that can be addressed through Meaningful Student Involvement, and strategies that can be considered to transform the theory into action. The book then expands on different ways to prepare individuals to become meaningfully involved, including students and adults. Places are considered to, with sections on preparing schools and the education system at large. The final section in this book encourages the reader to consider the ethical implications of Meaningful Student Involvement. (74 pages, 2017)

 


Book 6. Meaningful Student Involvement in Action

Meaningful Student Involvement in Action - SoundOut Student Voice Series Book #6 by Adam Fletcher Sasse

 

Envisioning Meaningful Student Involvement in Action can be challenging for adults who are used to today’s education system. In book six, Fletcher expands on the idea, exploring different types of action in-depth. A comprehensive picture is painted as readers look at examples of students as school researchers, educational planners, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers and education advocates. This book also addresses engaging disengaged students and gives examples of schoolwide and large scale programs. He also shares the need for healthy, safe and supportive learning environments that engender Meaningful Student Involvement for all learners. (114 pages, 2017)

 


Book 7. Learning through Student Voice

Learning through Student Voice - SoundOut Student Voice Series #7 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

Book seven explores what is learned through Meaningful Student Involvement. It discusses grade-specific approaches to learning, sharing what happens in elementary, middle and high schools, as well as what adults can learn. This book identifies different roles for teachers specifically, and summarizes a number of learning strategies and classroom structures that can be used to catalyze learning with students as partners. Fletcher then examines how to acknowledge Meaningful Student Involvement, and shows how educators can build ownership in action. (62 pages, 2017)

 


Book 8. Teaching Students about School

Teaching Students About School - SoundOut Student Voice Series #8 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

 

Teaching students about school is a key to Meaningful Student Involvement. In book eight, Fletcher shares a variety of ideas about this activity, from identifying the purpose of learning to understanding our own understanding of education. The constructivist nature of the theory is made plain as the educators are shown how to validate students’ existing knowledge about schools and how they might expand their own and their students’ understanding about the education system. Fletcher then identifies how Meaningful Student Involvement can be taught through curriculum and instruction, school leadership, building design, student assessment, building climate and culture, student support services, education governance, school/community partnerships, and parent involvement. Stories of action highlight each item. (52 pages, 2017)

 


Book 9. Barriers to Student Voice

Barriers to Student Voice - SoundOut Student Voice Series #9 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

 

The ninth book of the book proposes barriers and practical considerations affecting Meaningful Student Involvement. Fletcher details how the structure of education can be both a barrier and a solution to action. Other barriers examined in-depth include school culture, students themselves, and adults throughout the education system. The book shares a case examination for overcoming obstacles, and then details ways discrimination against students affects the meaningfulness of learning, teaching and leadership. It proposes a “student involvement gap” in addition to exploring convenient and inconvenient student voice. (76 pages, 2017)

 


Book 10. Measuring Student Voice

SoundOut Student Voice Series #10 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

 

Book ten addresses assessing meaningful student involvement. It thoughtfully examines different issues to be measured throughout activities, as well as ways to measure the effect of action on people, activities, and outcomes. This book also discusses how to sustain Meaningful Student Involvement. (56 pages, 2017)

 


Book 11. The Public Student

The Public Student - SoundOut Student Voice Series #11 by Adam F.C. Fletcher

Proposing there is an essential role for learners in democratic society, the last book, book eleven, details what Fletcher calls, “The Public Student.” This student is “any learner whose position is explicitly vital to the future of education, community and democracy.” This book shows what their jobs are, why they are important and what they look like in practice.

 


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Silencing Student Voice

Barriers to Students
Barriers to Students

To assist you in identifying and challenging adultism in schools, I’m adapting this list of common phrases educators have been conditioned to use throughout schools. They try to silence students with these phrases, especially when students challenge them, pushback or otherwise disagree.

The phrases below are often used by educators against students. Students of color, working class and poor students, queer and LGBTQI students, obese students, disabled students, and other marginalized students frequently hear these things more than other students. Silencing student voice happens a lot of different ways.

Strategies to Silence Student Voice

These silencing strategies, and others that may have been missed, can be found in any order. Students’ experiences of adults trying to silence them often go like this:

  • Adults in schools assert authority over students
  • Adults in schools question student knowledge/judgment
  • Adults in schools delegitimize student responses
  • Adults in schools delegitimize students
  • Adults in schools enforce dominant point of view
  • Adults in schools shut down debate or conversation

Following are details of what each strategy to silence students sounds like.

How Adults Assert Their Authority Over Students

  • No, but…
  • You’re wrong.
  • You’ve been wrong before.
  • That’s not true.
  • Are you sure? I’m going to Google it.
  • Really? I don’t believe it.
  • That’s never happened to me / anyone I know.
  • I’ve never seen / heard of that.

How Educators Question Student Voice

  • You don’t know that for sure.
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • That doesn’t count.
  • This is a completely different situation.
  • You’re making it about students when it’s not.

How Educators Dismiss Student Voice

  • You’re overreacting.
  • You’re blowing it out of proportion.
  • Why are you making such a big deal out of it?
  • Stop getting so emotional.
  • Don’t tell me you’re upset about this.
  • You’re getting angry /raising your voice / shouting again.
  • Not everything is about…(structural oppression goes here).
  • Stop trying to make it about…(structural oppression goes here).
  • You always say that.
  • I knew you’d do this.
  • Can’t we talk about something else?

How Educators Delegitimize Students

  • (Rude laughter)
  • (to someone else) She’s crazy. Don’t listen to her.
  • Why can’t you just relax?
  • Can’t you take a joke?
  • I’m just joking.
  • You’re so serious all the time.
  • You’re so angry all the time.
  • You have no sense of humor.

How Educators Enforce Dominance

  • You have to accept that…
  • You must agree that…
  • It’s obvious that…
  • You must be stupid to think that…
  • Everybody knows…
  • When I was your age…

How Educators Shut Down Conversations

  • This is a stupid / irrelevant / useless conversation.
  • Why are we still having this conversation?
  • It’s not important.
  • Not everything is about you.
  • You’re making it worse by talking about it.
  • Why don’t you just give it up already?
  • I’m done.
  • Are we done?
  • Are you happy now?
  • I’m gonna hang up.
  • I don’t debate on this topic.
  • I’m not having this conversation.
  • I said I was sorry! Isn’t that enough?

This post was adapted from here with permission of the original authors.

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Students as Experts

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Envisioning roles for students to be and behave like experts throughout the K-12 education system to teach youth is relatively easy. However, seeing new roles for students to teach adults because of their expertise can be more challenging. Engaging students as experts can bring specialized knowledge about particular subjects to classrooms and education agencies, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective throughout schools.

Student Expertise Can Include…

  • Students as Cultural Liaisons — Students can share unique, meaningful and substantive information, wisdom, knowledge, ideas and critiques of culture. As experts, they can have expertise on schools and learning, race, gender, age, development, and many other areas.
  • Student School Planners — Working with adults as partners, students school planners can help design education as democratic action that enhances the significance and efficacy of schools. They can also bring unique perspectives to formerly all-adult developments, allowing adults to have insights they wouldn’t gain otherwise.
  • Technology Specialists — Working with computers, the Internet, computer infrastructure and other areas their entire lives, students today can be spectacular technology specialists. Their ideas and passion drive the future of technology, starting hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Resources Needed

  • Education — Learning about their areas of knowledge, passion and ownership allows students to have deep investment and engagement with the issues throughout K-12 education that interest them the most. Their learning can be in any area they are passionate about, whether curriculum, design, assessment, technology, or any issue, so long as it moves beyond simply consuming learning and moves towards critiquing and building new knowledge with adults as partners.
  • Internet — The web provides people of all ages massive, moving and meaningful opportunities to develop and deepened their knowledge and wisdom about countless areas, allowing them to specialize in areas they are interested and the world needs.
  • Opportunities — Without substantial opportunities to be experts, students are inadvertently taught that their opinions are insignificant or not worthy of educators’ attention. Teachers, principals, districts and other education organizations can readily create opportunities to engage students as experts.

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Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at soundout.org

Students as Policy-Makers

How can teachers create personalized learning experiences by infusing student-led policy-making throughout the education system? Can students make more effective policy than adults when it comes to the environments they spend eight hours in everyday? 

Issues

Students rarely have a voice in the direction of school. We know that students today want learning to be meaningful – which means powerful, relevant and democratic. How do we create experiences that meet the needs of today’s learners? We should start by engaging students by incorporating their tools of learning outside the classroom into their learning experiences inside the classroom. Design learning experiences that empower students to be creators of education policy.

Considerations

  • What tools can we use to engage and empower students in education policy-making?
  • How can you accommodate different styles of learning through education policy-making?
  • How can we create learning environments that engage students in education policy-making?
  • How can students drive education policy-making?
  • What are students’ roles in school board decision-making? Building decision-making? Whole system decision-making?
  • How can student policy-making be assessed?

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Roles for Students throughout the Education System

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

What are the broadest possible roles for engaging students as partners throughout the K-12 education system? 

The most important thing when engaging students in any role in school is to acknowledge their first duty: Learning. Their learning is paramount to being meaningfully involved throughout schools. Learning through meaningful student involvement should include: stated learning goals, meaningful action, and sustained, deep reflection.

Following are a several roles students can have that can transform schools and education forever.

Roles for Students throughout the Education System

These are roles for students throughout education by Adam Fletcher for SoundOut.
These are roles for students throughout education by Adam Fletcher for SoundOut.

Students as Facilitators »

Knowledge comes from study, experience, and reflection. Engaging students as learning guides and facilitators helps reinforce their commitment to learning and the subject they are teaching; it can also engage both young and older learners in exciting ways.

Students as Researchers »

Identifying issues, surveying interests, analyzing findings, and developing projects in response are all powerful avenues for Student Voice.

Students as Planners »

Planning includes program design, event planning, curriculum development, and hiring staff. Students planning activities can lend validity, creativity, and applicability to abstract concepts and broad outcomes.

Students as Organizers »

Community organizing happens when leaders bring together everyone in a community in a role that fosters social change. Students community organizers focus on issues that affect themselves and their communities; they rally their peers, families, and community members for action.

Students as Advocates »

When students stand for their beliefs and understand the impact of their voices, they can represent their families and communities with pride, courage, and ability.

Students as Evaluators »

Assessing and evaluating the effects of programs, classes, activities, and projects can promote Student Voice in powerful ways. Students can learn that their opinions are important, and their experiences are valid indicators of success.

Students as Experts »

Envisioning roles for students to teach students is relatively easy; seeing new roles for students to teach adults is more challenging. Students specialists bring expert knowledge about particular subjects to programs and organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective.

Students as Advisors »

When students advise adults they provide genuine knowledge, wisdom, and ideas to each other, adults, schools, and education agencies, and other locations and activities that affect them and their world at large.

Students as Designers »

Students participate in creating intentional, strategic plans for an array of activities, including curriculum, building construction, students and community programs, and more.

Students as Teachers »

Facilitating learning for themselves, other students and educators, other adults in schools, or adults throughout our schools can be teachers of small and large groups in all kinds of topics.

Students as Grant-Makers »

Students can identify funding, distribute grants, evaluate effectiveness, and conduct other parts of the process involved in grant-making.

Students as Lobbyists »

Influencing policy-makers, legislators, politicians, and the people who work for them are among the activities for students as lobbyists.

Students as Trainers »

When they train adults, students, children, and others, youth can share their wisdom, ideas, knowledge, attitudes, actions, and processes in order to guide programs, nurture organization and community cultures, and change the world.

Students as Politicians »

Running for political office at the community, city, county, or state levels, students can be politicians in a variety of positions. In some places, they can run for school boards or as education trustees too.

Students as Recruiters

Students building excitement, sharing motivation, or otherwise helping their peers and other people to get involved, create change, or make all sorts of things happen throughout schools and the entire education system.

Students as Social Entrepreneurs »

When students recognize a social problem, they can use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make schools and their communities change.

Students as Paid Staff »

When schools hire students, they can be staff members in schools and throughout the education system. They can fulfill many roles on this list in paid positions.

Students as Mentors

Mentoring is a non-hierarchical relationship between students and adults, adults and students, or among students themselves, that helps facilitate learning and guidance for each participant.

Students as Decision-Makers »

Making rules in classrooms is not the only way to engage students in decision-making. Participating in formal and informal decision-making, students can be school board members, education committee members, and in many different roles throughout schools.

Students as Activity Leaders » 

As activity leaders in schools and education agencies, students can facilitate, teach, guide, direct, and otherwise lead youth, adults, and children in a variety of ways.

Students as Policy-Makers » 

When they research, plan, write, and evaluate education rules, regulations, laws, and other policies, students as policy-makers can enrich, substantiate, enliven, and impact the outcomes of policies and schools in many ways.

Students as Activists »

Struggling for education transformation, school improvement and educational justice, student activists may lead immediate, solo, large group and whole school efforts to make a difference in K-12 schools.


Next Steps

These are merely some of the roles. What others can YOU think of? It is also important to consider the issues you want to address. Have questions? Need ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at soundout.org

The Guide to Meaningful Student Involvement

The Guide to Meaningful Student Involvement highlights a practical framework, important considerations, and real-world examples. This is the most concise summary of the Frameworks to Meaningful Student Involvement available today.

The Guide is all about engaging students throughout education. Recommended for anyone interested in student voice, student empowerment, student engagement, or building community in schools.

  • The Guide to Meaningful Student Involvement
  • (60 pgs, 2014, FREE)
  • Download

 

Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at soundout.org

SoundOut Student Symposium

SoundOut Student Symposium Flyer

 

SoundOut Student Symposium

Saturday, February 20, 2016
Seattle, Washington

This retreat for high schoolers is designed to increase student ownership in their education. Spending the day with master facilitator Adam Fletcher, students will participate in highly-interactive, hands-on activities to discover what education is, what it does, why it matters and how they can change it. Specifically, students will become familiar with multiple intelligences; examine the value of formal and informal learning; learn the parts of the education system; and examine the basics of student voice.

Registration is required. Seating is limited. Group pricing is available. For location, pricing and information, please email Lois Brewer at lbrewer@seattleschools.org

 

How to Facilitate Student Voice

It can be hard to facilitate student voice. At SoundOut, we define student voice as any expression of any student, anywhere, at any time about anything related to learning, schools and education. Trying to facilitate definition on purpose can challenge the most experienced teacher, wizened community facilitator, or determined student leader.

ALL student voice can be supremely useful. That includes students who dress in ties and business clothes and present at school board meetings, as well as those who text answers to tests under desks and fight in the hallway. But when things go bad, and they can, facilitating student voice can be counterproductive and actually work against the very things it was intended to do.

Over the last 15 years, I have facilitated student voice in a many settings with a variety of students for literally dozens of reasons. I have also trained and taught thousands of people how to do the same. Following are some tips, concerns, and considerations I have compiled for people who want to become EXCELLENT student voice facilitators.

I share this out of love and respect for everyone who has ever sat through a poorly led student voice event and wanted to do it differently. If you are really committed to being an excellent facilitator of student voice, read on. If you’re not, well, good luck, and don’t give up.

Tip 1: Before You Start

Before you start down the road of facilitating student voice, youth should think about these questions:

  • Who were the best teachers, facilitators, or adults who worked with students you ever experienced? The worst? What made them that way?
  • What is your goal for being an excellent facilitator- productivity, interaction, fun? Do you think you can facilitate all those at once?
  • What assumptions do you have about facilitation?
  • Why do you really want to learn more about excellent facilitation?

After thinking about all this you are ready to begin learning more about being an excellent facilitator- but not before then! Take a little while and really consider those questions, and then read on…

Tip 2: Be a Facilitator- Not a Teacher, Speaker, or Preacher.

There’s a difference between a teacher, a speaker, a preacher, and a facilitator. A facilitator’s job has three parts:

  • Lead the gathering or group
  • Guide towards goals
  • Lead by example

A excellent facilitator always starts by setting the tone of the student voice group. A facilitator is not expected to know it all, nor are they expected to drive everything. Insecure leaders do this. Secure leaders follow the maxim that, “A good leader makes the people believe they did it themselves.” You have knowledge and experience that you can and should share; however, you do not have to be the expert. Allow students to teach you. Also, remember that the mood of the facilitator will set the tone for the entire workshop, and that enthusiasm is contagious. Strive to be positive, be human, and have fun in every student voice group, no matter what its about.

Six Tips for Excellent Facilitation

  1. Set aside your needs in favor of the needs of the student voice group.
  2. Establish a friendly atmosphere and open sharing of ideas.
  3. Encouragestudents to take risks. When in doubt, check with the student voice group. It’s not your responsibility to know everything.
  4. Be aware of student engagement: Observe what is said, who is speaking, and what is really being said.
  5. Respect is the critical ingredient in effective student voice groups.
  6. Successful student voice groups should be uncomfortable sometimes. Address conflict and do not try to avoid it. Create an atmosphere of trust so that disagreements can be brought into the open.

Tip 3: Create Guidelines and Goals

Many well-meaning facilitators come from cynical perspectives that disallow us from acknowledging the norms that make successful student voice groups work. We can overcome this by having students create ground rules or guidelines before you begin. Brainstorm potential rules and write them down – but avoid too many rules. There are three essential guidelines:

  • Stay on task. Every student voice group should have a clearly stated purpose and agenda. This allows us to stay focused, considerate, and action-oriented.
  • Avoid rabbit holes. Alice fell into a world away from reality – Your group doesn’t have to be that way. Stay aware of off-topic banter, read your audience, and consider other ways to share ideas before getting too far away from the point.
  • Look for diamonds by working through the coal. There are rough things to go through in some student voice groups. Instead of avoiding them commit- as a group- to getting in and going through them.

Every student voice group should have some specific guidelines that all students agree on. Some goals can include:

  • Accomplish the specific task at hand, and when we’re done say we’re done.
  • Build a sense of teamwork and purpose.
  • Show that everyone has different strengths and abilities to offer the group and that no one is better than anyone else.

Tip 4: Think about Framing and Sequencing

Framing. Facilitators introduce the purpose, or frame, the student voice group they’re leading. Framing happens when a facilitator sets a simple prompt that lets students know there is a purpose to the group.

Sequencing. An important consideration is the order in which you present student voice groups, or sequencing. If a group has never learned together, it might be important to follow the sequences laid out beforehand. If they spend time together a lot, following the formal sequence isn’t always necessary. If a group is more comfortable with each other, try bursting the bubble by digging right into deeper group times. It is important to try to put “heavy” activities after less intensive ones, to build a sense of rest and preparedness.

Tip 5: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

One way make student voice group events matter is to reflect before, during, and after the reflection. You can see reflection as a circle: You start with an explanation what you are going to learn and frame its purpose and goals to the group. As the activity progresses, the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as needed. Finally, group reflection helps students see how they met the goals of the workshop, and helps them envision the broader implications. Then the group has came full-circle.

Five Types of Reflection Questions

  • Open-Ended Questions – Prevents yes and no answers. “What was the purpose of the activity?” “What did you learn about yourself, our team, our program, our organization, or our community?”
  • Feeling Questions – Requires students to reflect on how they feel about what they did. “How did it feel when you started to pull it together?”
  • Judgment Questions – Asks students to make decisions about things. “What was the best part?” “Was it a good idea?”
  • Guiding Questions – Steers the participants toward the purpose of the activity and keep the discussion focused. “What got you all going in the right direction?”
  • Closing Questions – Helps participants draw conclusions and end the discussion. “What did you learn?” “What would you do differently?”

Tip 6: Make Meaning With Students

At their best, student voice group events can serve as bridges between students and promote learning through community building. They can reinforce the need for communication, co-learning, and collective action.

At their worst, group events can actually be tools of oppression and alienation and serve to support vertical practices that isolate people from each other everyday. As Paulo Freire wrote, “A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” In this sense, excellent facilitation requires that we all become humanists who engage students with each other, followers with leaders, and teachers with students.

Tip 7: Create Safe Space

It is vital to create, foster, and support safe spaces where students can learn together. In a society that is openly hostile towards critical perspectives, participants in any activity need support when they make their voices heard. Establishing a safe space is powerful, positive, and hopeful, and hope is a requirement for excellent facilitation.

Seven Ways to Create Safe Space

  1. Acknowledge that everyone has preconceived ideas about others– or prejudices– that can damage others and ourselves.
  2. Ask students, “Who should be in this group but is not?”
  3. Focus and limit our conversations until trust increases (sometimes it is better to agree not to talk about specific issue/problem right away.
  4. As the facilitator, seek true dialogue and ask real questions.
  5. Encourage students to examine their personal assumptions by checking in with others rather than hiding or defending them.
  6. Speak from personal experience by using I statements and do not generalize about others.
  7. Be open to a change of heart as well as a change in thinking.

Tip 8: Seek Consensus

Whenever a student voice group is discussing a possible solution or coming to a decision on any matter, consensus is a tool excellent facilitators turn to. Following is a popular consensus-building technique.

Fist-To-Five Decision-Making

Start by restating a decision the student voice group may make and ask everyone to show their level of support. Each person should responds by showing a fist or a number of fingers that corresponds to their opinion.

  • Fist is a no vote – a way to block consensus. It says, “I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes for it to pass.”
  • 1 Finger says, “I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest changes that should be made.”
  • 2 Fingers says, “I am more comfortable with the proposal but would like to discuss some minor issues.”
  • 3 Fingers says, “I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this decision or a proposal pass without further discussion.”
  • 4 Fingers says, “I think it’s a good idea/decision and will work for it.”
  • 5 Fingers says, “It’s a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it.”

If anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, they should be given the opportunity to state their objections and the team should address their concerns. Continue the Fist-to-Five process until students achieve consensus, which is a minimum of three fingers or higher, or determine they must move on to the next issue.

Tip 9: Embrace the Journey

Learning is a process, not an outcome. Encourage students to view the student voice group process as a journey that has no particular destination. However, even experience cannot teach us what we do not seek to learn. John Dewey once wrote that we should seek, “Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim of living.” This is true of excellent facilitation.

Students should use student voice group action as a starting point for a lifelong journey that includes learning, reflection, examination, and re-envisioning democracy in our communities; facilitators help groups down that path, and encourage students to embrace the journey.

Tip 10: Embrace Challenges

Since excellent facilitation is a process, it is important to understand that there will be difficult times ahead. One of the keys to excellent facilitation is knowing that criticism will come – and that can be good. We cannot grow without criticism. In a society where criticism is often a one way street, we must be aware of the outcomes of our actions, embrace these challenges, and learn from them. Following are several strategies for fostering critical thinking with students.

Seven Ways to Grow Student Voice Groups

  1. Use think-pair-share. Have individual thinking time, discussion with a partner, and presentation back to the student voice group.
  2. Ask follow-ups. Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Can you give an example?
  3. Withhold judgment. Respond to answers without evaluating them and ask random group members to respond to them.
  4. Summarize. Asking a student at random to summarize another’s point to encourage active listening.
  5. Think out loud. Have students unpack their thinking by describing how they arrived at an answer.
  6. Play devil’s advocate. Asking students to defend their reasoning against different points of view.
  7. Support students’ questions. Asking students to formulate their own questions and build off your questions.

Remember

These are the plainest steps I can write down right now for becoming an excellent facilitator. There is plenty of information about facilitation online, and some of it is good. This is meant for those who want to be Excellent. I hope you join us!

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