SoundOut Tools

Impacts of Students on School Boards

For more than 20 years, SoundOut has been studying the roles of students on school boards. Based on our own experiences and on research about the practice, we have found many impacts from this type of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Impacts affect primarily four different audiences. Students on school boards can affect the student representative themselves; adult school board members; students throughout the affected education system, and; the larger communities that the schools serve.

Following are some of the impacts of students on school boards. These are drawn from the first significant research on the impacts students have on adults and organizations when they are involved in significant decision-making roles, as well as decades of research from education researchers.

Impacts on Student Members of School Boards: Students on school boards can impact the student representative members.

  • Meaningful Student Involvement in school board decision-making “provides them with the essential opportunities and supports (i.e. challenge, relevancy, voice, cause-based action, skill-building, adult structure, and affirmation) that are consistently shown to help young people achieve mastery, compassion, and health.”

Impacts on Adult Members of School Boards: Students on school boards can impact adult school board members.

  1. Adults experience the competence of students first-hand, and can perceive
    students as legitimate, crucial contributors to education system decision-making
  2. Working with students serves to enhance the commitment and energy of adults to K-12 schools.
  3. Adults feel more effective and more confident in working with and relating to students.
  4. Adults can grow to understand the needs and concerns of students, and become more attuned to K-12 school issues, making them more likely to reach outside the
    school board and share their new knowledge and insights with the broader community. They can gain a stronger sense of education community connectedness.

Impacts on School Boards: Students on school boards can impact students throughout the affected education system.

  1. The principles and practices of Meaningful Student Involvement can become embedded within the culture of the education system.
  2. Most school boards find that students can help clarify and bring focus to the board’s mission, and some boards make this a formal role of students.
  3. The adults and the school board as a whole can become more connected and responsive to students throughout K-12 schools. This investment and energy can lead to school improvement.
  4. School boards place a greater value on inclusivity and diversity. They can come to see that their decision-making benefits when multiple and diverse student voices are included in school boards.
  5. Having students meaningfully involved as decision-makers can help convince voters, state agencies, and other funding sources that the school board is serious about promoting student success for every learner.
  6. Including students in decision-making can lead school boards to reach out to communities in more diverse and effective ways including community advocacy, policy-making, and direct service.

Impacts on K-12 Schools: Students on school boards can impact the larger educational communities that the school boards serve, including every K-12 school within their districts.

  1. The culture of schools can reflect Meaningful Student Involvement more substantively.
  2. The likelihood of students in elementary, middle and high schools of all academic achievement levels being meaningfully involved increases substantially, allowing more students to experience the benefits.
  3. Classroom teachers, school counselors, building administrators and other educators are more likely to experience the impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement in their roles.

You can see our sources at the end of this page. To find more information, visit our pages about our projects. For more information, contact us »

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Students on School Boards Toolkit

Students on School Boards in Canada


SoundOut Tools

SoundOut Tools

Working with K-12 students, educators, administrators and community partners across the United States and around the world, SoundOut has created many tools throughout the years. Following are some of them.

We offer training, tools and technical assistance to support each of these tools. Contact us for details »

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Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Schools

Meaningful Student Involvement relies on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion throughout education. Focused on engaging every student in every grade in every school everywhere, all of the time, students of color, low-income students, LGBTTQQI students, low-achieving, under-resourced and all historically disengaged learners should have opportunities for meaningful involvement.

Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, or JEDI, is the framework for how SoundOut builds schools, cultivate educational leaders, and makes education a force for good. In all of our practices, SoundOut stands against all forms of oppression, including racism, transphobia, classism, sexism, and xenophobia.

Our JEDI framework is based on work by the University of North Carolina, as well as the work of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and others.

“To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce; to discourse on humanism and to negate people is a lie.”

― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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Articles Examples

U.S. Office of Students and Youth

The Office of Students and Youth is a former program of the United States Office of Education, now known as the United States Department of Education. Launched in 1969, the first leader of the office was Toby Moffet.


the office was created for several reasons:

  • To seek technical and financial assistance for innovative student-run programs
  • Keep USOE tuned in to students, and
  • Present a national overview of school tensions and ways of dealing with them
  • Run the Student Information Center in Washington, D.C., staffed mainly by local students, the center collects information on innovations in public high schools, especially those started by students; student rights; and participation in governance.

The Student Information Center also established a clearinghouse of information on secondary school issues, especially student-initiated reforms.


  • Moffett, A.J., Jr. (May 1970) “Youth Gets a Voice in New Student Center,” Nation’s Schools, 85(5). pp. 57-59.

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United States Student Voice Directory

United States Student Voice Directory

The following is a directory of student voice activities across the United States. Select a state to see a listing of different activities happening there, including school boards, K-12 schools, community organizations and more!


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Tips for Recruiting Students

Working with high school students in rural Oregon, SoundOut recently asked them what is most important to them when they are recruited for student voice activities and programs. These are recruitment tips from the students we talked to.

  • Please Treat Me With Respect. Talking to youth like everyone is on the same level, rather than top-down, and you will be more relatable.
  • Be Truly Supportive. We like positive feedback and encouragement. It is important to find a balance between offering both positive and constructive feedback.
  • Get Consistent. Activities should be scheduled consistently. When efforts to build youth leadership are scheduled randomly and without regularity, we rightfully get suspicious and find it hard to trust adults. It is easier to assume an activity will not happen than to feel let down. Youth activities come and go in our communities and are never consistent.
  • Make Space. Make a specific place for us in the community newsletter, and put a “Youth Section” on the bulletin boards around town. We want to provide input on things happening in the community, and to share and learn about upcoming activities, workshops and events.
  • Make Room. We want to be active members of our community. Treat us as equals and have youth-related issues be as important as those issues that affect others in the community. 

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Every Student in Every School All of the Time

There are almost countless ways that every student shares student voice everyday. Are adults ready to listen? This article shares what student voice is, what student voice does, and whether student voice can make a difference in learning, teaching and leadership.

SoundOut defines student voice this way:

Student voice is any expression of any young person about anything, anytime, anywhere for any purpose as it relates to learning, teaching and education.

That means student voice is not the same as student leadership, student engagement, or other student activities. While all of those are some of the ways student voice is shared, they are not the only ways.

There are so many ways student voice happens. When a young person participates in class, they are sharing student voice. If they etch graffiti onto a hallway locker, they are sharing student voice. If they put on a suit and present at a school board meeting, they are sharing student voice. Here are some more ways students share student voice:

  • Attendance or skipping class
  • Submitting assignments or cheating and plagurizing
  • Completing group projects or not completing group projects
  • Voting or abstaining from voting
  • Complying or complaining
  • Joining clubs and teams or leaving fast
  • Mentoring or bullying

In some schools, student voice is treated as a synonym for student leadership. Only students who follow adult agendas, behave in ways adults approve, and decide things the ways adults would present student voice that is accepted by adults. In other schools, no student voice is ever valid, and every adult is always presented as having all authority over student expressions, no matter what they are. Neither of these is a true reality though.

Instead, as the list above shows, every action by any student, anywhere in school for any reason constitutes student voice—whether or not adults approve of it. With student voice constantly present, the question is not whether students are ready to share student voice—its whether adults are willing and prepared to listen to it.

There are many ways adults can embrace, engage and infuse student voice for students of all ages and all abilities for any purpose. Freechild’s sister program,, shares the following as ways to do this:

  • Teach students about their voices: Rather than simply going through their days without consciousness, educators can teach every student about student voice
  • Teach students about schools: Many students spend 13 years in schools without ever understanding what it is they are part of. Help students understand the purpose, structure, activities, and outcomes of education
  • Teach students about improving schools: Share with learners how they are part of a system that includes grades, assessments, projects, reports, and democracy. Show them who affects them and what they can do to affect others, and engage them in activities to improve learning, teaching and leadership
  • Teach students about Meaningful Student Involvement: It is one thing to know about all of this, and another thing to actually do something about it. When student voice is activated for the purpose of connecting students to education, community, and democracy young people can learn most effectively

There are many other steps to take and a lot of examples available. For more information on engaging student voice, contact us today!

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How Adultism Happens in Schools

On the 20th anniversary of, I want to acknowledge that after all this time with teachers, building leaders, counselors, support staff and other adults in K-12 schools across the nation, there’s a reality that few people are willing to face: Adultism in schools is rampant and deeply affecting education in many ways. This article explains how adultism happens in schools.

Adultism is the bias towards adults which often results in discrimination against students. Bias towards adults means that the ideas, opinions, actions and outcomes of adults are more valued than those of students. Students experience adultism in every grade level, each subject, all activities, and almost every outcome of schools. Whether its apparent in the ways adults talk to students, in how buildings are designed, in what types of assessments are delivered, or in who graduates from school, adultism is present throughout the entire education system. However, in order to address it we have to understand how it happens.

Through my research and practice focused on adultism, I have found that it happens in three primary ways in schools:

  1. Personal Adultism: The attitudes, opinions, beliefs and actions every person takes that show bias towards adults.
  2. Cultural Adultism: The shared beliefs, joint actions, and common traditions within a classroom, school and community that demonstrate, reflect, uplift, or ensure bias towards adults.
  3. Structural Adultism: The formal and informal systems, processes, organization, and outcomes of schools that ensure, reinforce, sustain, or transfer bias towards adults.
Affton, Missouri teachers in an adultism workshop with Adam F.C. Fletcher of
Teachers in Affton, Missouri in an adultism workshop with Adam F.C. Fletcher of

These three ways are present in every school, pre-K through 12th grade, as well as school districts, state education agencies, and the federal government. Within these broad categorizations, there are many specific ways adultism are demonstrated in schools. In the last few days I’ve talked with more than 50 educators in the Affton School District outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Dissecting this issue, they share some of the ways they express and witness adultism everyday in school. Here are some things they shared.

How Personal Adultism Happens in Schools

  • The language we speak
  • Teacher and student attitudes
  • “No interruptions!” and other arbitrary or irrelevant commands
  • Writing off new media’s usage in schools
  • Banning phone use in classes
  • Assigning unneeded homework
  • Enforcing the Queen’s English in schools
  • Apathy towards students
  • Respect (or the lack thereof) for students
  • Self care
  • “My job is to keep you safe”
  • “My job is to teach you; your job is to learn.”

How Cultural Adultism Happens in Schools

  • Adults know best
  • Behavior management expectations
  • Must create confident, capable consumers
  • Social grouping and friendships
  • Demonizing social media
  • Enforcing the “proper way” to speak to an adult
  • Assuming school is the best way to instruct all students
  • Unspoken socio-economic dress codes
  • The teacher is responsible for all the students’ needs
  • Expecting respect for “those in charge”

How Structural Adultism Happens in Schools

  • Time schedules
  • Graduation rates
  • Diplomas
  • Grading
  • Teacher-driven lesson plans
  • Testing and assessments
  • School start times
  • Career and College Readiness Plans
  • Rules
  • Procedures for classrooms, buildings and the district
  • Seating styles
  • Dress codes
  • Standardized tests
  • Standardized curriculum

Every person in schools is capable of showing, supporting, uplifting and sustaining adultism in schools, including students themselves. As the barriers to student voice show, adultism can force students to preserve their personal best interest by undermining group success.

This is a poster showing how teachers in Affton, Missouri thought adultism happens in schools from August 2022.
This is a poster showing how teachers in Affton, Missouri thought adultism happens in schools from August 2022.

How to you think adultism happens in schools? Share your thoughts, ideas and knowledge in the comments section!

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Teacher Mindsets About Meaningful Student Involvement

Over the last decade, there has been a lot written about growth mindsets. There has been a lot said for adults learning about the concept, and teaching students about the idea. Here I want to elaborate on the role of growth mindsets for meaningful student involvement.

This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.

In the 1990s, Carol Dweck started writing about growth mindsets. Centered on students’ perceptions of failure, Dweck found that some students came back quickly from failure and some students were devastated by failure. By studying their perceptions of failure, Dweck identified that the difference was that some students had a growth mindset and believed they could get smarter, while others had a fixed mindset and thought they would never succeed.

Testing whether those mindsets could be changed for the positive, Dweck and other researchers discovered that fixed mindsets could be changed with specific interventions.

I began learning about mindsets a decade ago. Applying what I found to the K-12 schools I worked in, I found that educators’ mindsets often determined which student voice they would listen to, which students would be meaningfully involved in schools, and which students would be focused on to engage. These seemingly innate perceptions about students were routinely informed by student identities and performance in schools, and were far from the equity that many educators say they aspire to.

Fixed Mindsets about Students

I quickly found that student involvement in traditional school activities, such as extracurricular clubs and athletics, was predicated on whether teachers thought the students who were involved deserved to be involved. If they deserved it, they let the students know. I call this gatekeeping. Gatekeeping allows certain students to be involved and keeps roles for teachers as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers decide which students can be involved according to various spoken and unspoken factors, including:

  • Academic achievement
  • Likeability
  • Compliance
  • Race
  • Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
  • Socio-economic background

These “gates” are predicated on bias, allowing and disallowing some student voice to be valued while other student voice is silenced. It is the educators’ mindset or the join mindsets of several educators or school administration that permits, accepts and sustains this bias. This fixed mindset about students believes:

  • Students have to deserve or earn the right to have student voice heard
  • Only certain students selected by adults should be heard and other students should not be heard
  • There is a “perfect” or “right” type of student voice, and every other student voice is imperfect or isn’t right
  • Student voice should reproduce teacher voice
  • Only certain students have innate abilities to share student voice, and other students do not have this ability

Growth Mindsets about Students

A growth mindset about student involvement, student voice and student engagement allows and encourages all students to experience Meaningful Student Involvement whether adults accept them or not. Educators see that all learners have student voice, and all students understand they deserve to be involved — not because they’re particularly special, but because they are learners, and all learners should be heard, seen, acknowledge, and empowered.

When educators have growth mindsets about students, they…

  • Believe every student voice deserves to be heard
  • Make space for students to share what they want to, rather than just what adults want them to share
  • Work to deliberately engage every single student every single day in every single way possible
  • Teach students to focus on improving how they share student voice, not which students share or what they share
  • Focus on why student voice matters and why students share how they do
  • Believe in increasing others teachers’ capacities to meaningfully involve students

Decades ago, Dweck and her colleagues showed that teacher mindsets directly and deeply impact student mindsets. One of the informal findings from my work has been that when teachers think students are capable of positively transforming schools, students think they are positively capable of transforming schools. While their actions are (luckily) not contingent on adults believing in them, more students are going to become more active in education transformation when we check ourselves.

How do adult mindsets affect student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement in your school? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

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SoundOut Books

Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change

Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change by Adam Fletcher
The cover to Adam Fletcher’s Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change (2005).

This e-book describes the elements of meaningful student involvement in the context of school change efforts. It presents a five-step cycle of listening, validating, authorizing, mobilizing, and reflecting on student voice; a tool to measure the quality of activities involving student voice; and several examples of what students as researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates look like in practice, at elementary, middle, and high schools. These tools include student-created district budgets, decision-making roles for students on committees for hiring teachers and principals, and student-led forums and conferences. Additionally, it presents barriers to implementing this type of reform and possible strategies to meet these challenges.

(28 pgs, 2005, FREE)

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