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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Students as Learning Evaluators

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement can feature roles for students as learning evaluators. Following is an introduction to these opportunities, including details, stories and resources.

SoundOut's Adam Fletcher facilitates students in planning student voice.
SoundOut’s Adam Fletcher facilitates students in planning student voice activities.


On one level, teachers are always listening to students’ opinions, checking for comprehension, and whether they have accomplished a task. Another level is reflected in the barrage of student surveys conducted, and the myriad education books that tokenize students’ opinions with quotes from students on their covers.

The Difference of Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement calls for something more, something that is deliberate, empowering, far-reaching and sustainable. Engaging students as evaluators calls for educators to develop practical, applicable feedback opportunities where students are encouraged to be honest, open and solution-oriented. Students find particular investment in evaluation when they can see tangible outcomes, and have some measure of accountability from the systems, educators, or situations they are evaluating.

Over the course of a school year, teachers might want a variety of evaluations from students. These may include:

  • An occasional large-scale forum where the opinions of students in one or all grade levels are canvassed;
  • Creating a regular pattern of evaluative feedback in lessons; or,
  • Facilitating a series of one-to-one or small group discussions, how members of a particular sub-group of students (the disengaged, high-achievers, young women, young men, or students not from the majority culture in the surrounding community, for example) are feeling about their learning experiences; or shaping a new initiative in the classroom or school.

By involving students as evaluators, schools can develop purposeful, impacting, and authentic assessments of classes, schools, teachers, and enact accountability and ownership for all participants in the learning process. Effective evaluations may include student evaluations of classes and schools; student evaluations of teachers; student evaluations of self, and; student-led parent-teacher conferences, where students present their learning as partners with teachers and parents, instead of as passive recipients of teaching done “to” them.

Learning through Self-Examination

Experience shows that student voice is best understood through the personal experience of all students in all schools, everywhere. We have discovered that critical self-examination leads to deeper perspectives about Meaningful Student Involvement, which allows the evolution of action to be responsive to ever-transforming student populations in schools. We have also found that research-based tools can successfully guide practice in Meaningful Student Involvement, and engaging students in evaluation can help develop those tools.

When this kind of evaluation is new to a school, teachers may feel apprehensive about talking with students in a way that changes traditional power relationships within the school. Teachers may feel challenged by empowering students for many reasons, including feeling disempowered to make decisions in their own classrooms. In response to what is perceived as some schools’ inadequate understanding of the experiences and opinions of students, community groups and education organizations across the nation are engaging students as evaluators. Adults work with students in these programs to design evaluations, conduct surveys, analyze data and create reports to share with fellow students and educators.

Meaningful Student Involvement is tantamount to putting mutual respect and communication in motion between students and educators in schools. Meaningful Student Involvement also requires the investment from educators and students. Many student voice programs have simply thrown the job of sounding out at students, without showing students the degrees of possibility for the input and action of young people. Some neglect the necessity of two-way dialogue, of collaborative student/teacher problem solving, and of truly student inclusive, interdependent school change.

Meaningful Student Involvement in education evaluation gives students and educators the impetus to establish constructive, critical dialogues that place common purpose and interdependence at the center of the discussion. When dissent is encountered, appropriate avenues for resolution can be identified. When inconsistencies and prejudice are revealed, intentional exposure and practical understanding is sought. When educators strive to engage the hope students have for schools, they can foster students’ growth as effective evaluators who actually impact the processes of learning, teaching and leading. In turn, students will offer vital lessons for educators and the education system as a whole.

Purposeful Assessments

Meaningful Student Involvement engages students as evaluators delivering purposeful assessments of their classes, teachers, and whole school. Students can also evaluate themselves or facilitate student-led parent-teacher conferences, where students present their learning as partners with teachers and parents, instead of as passive recipients of teaching done “to” them.

When this kind of evaluation is new to a school, teachers may feel apprehensive about talking with students in a way that changes traditional power relationships within the school. Teachers may feel challenged by empowering students for many reasons, including feeling disempowered to make decisions in their own classrooms. In response to what is perceived as some schools’ inadequate understanding of the experiences and opinions of students, community groups and education organizations across the nation are engaging students as evaluators. Adults work with students in these programs to design evaluations, conduct surveys, analyze data and create reports to share with fellow students and educators.


Following are some of activities that engage students as evaluators.

  • Classrooms: Students assess themselves, their peers, teachers, curricula, and classes, recommending changes and acknowledging expectations on teachers and administrators.
  • Administration: Students are engaged with administrators in evaluating the effects and outcomes of meaningfully involving students throughout school decision-making.
  • Culture: Students compare student/teacher relationships and perspectives of respect throughout school.
Stories of Students as Evaluators

Following are examples of students evaluating each others, evaluating themselves, evaluating teachers, curriculum, school cultures, and more.

Considerations for Students as Evaluators

Engaging students as evaluators should not mean replacing any other evaluations. Instead, it should be seen as an additional information source. This is true whether students are evaluating themselves, their peers, classroom curricula, school climate, or their teachers directly. Student evaluations should not replace teacher evaluations. This is an important reality to consider.

Another important consideration is that students in all of the stories above where not simply thrown evaluations and expected to do wonderful things. Instead, they were partnered meaningfully with adults, taught about what they were evaluating, and facilitated through the entire process. This is essential for honoring student learning as well as whatever is being evaluated.

Spaces for Student Voice
These are the spaces where student voice should be engaged throughout education.

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  • Campbell, P., Edgar, S., Halsted, A. (1994). “Students as evaluators: A model for program evaluation,” Phi Delta Kappan 76(2): 160-165.
  • Chappuis, Stephen & Stiggins, Richard J.(2002). “Classroom Assessment for Learning,” Educational Leadership 60 (1): 40-43.
  • Hackman, D. (1997). Student-led conferences at the middle level. Champagne, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No ED407171).
  • McCall, D. (2000). Selected case studies of youth involvement in public decision making. Vancouver, BC: Centre on Community and School Health.
  • REAL HARD. (2003). Student voices count: A student-led evaluation of high schools in Oakland. Oakland, CA.: Kids First.
  • Scriven, M. (1995). Student ratings offer useful input to teacher evaluations. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED398240).


Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at
Articles Strategies

Student Burnout and Student Voice

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravished K-12 schools across the United States and around the world. After months or years out of physical school buildings, students have been brought back into classroom learning. However, a new epidemic has emerged throughout schools, and it is best summarized as student burnout. This article is about the connections between student burnout and student voice.

Student burnout happens when learners of all ages have had enough. Consciously or unconsciously, they’ve surrendered their will to learn. In response, they have become apathetic about learning and disconnected from school. Student burnout can be obvious or subtle, intentional or accidental, incidental or sustained.

When students throw trash around bathrooms, fight on social media posts, run out of classrooms, or skip school, they are being obvious. However, missing assignments, staring out the window and answering questions with rote memorization instead of thoughtful replies can all be indications of student burnout, too.

At SoundOut, we’ve discovered there is an intersection between student burnout and student voice. Working with more than 500 schools globally over the last 20 years, we’ve found the ability of students to express themselves about learning and schools is key to retaining positive possibilities for education. When students have authentic opportunities to share their knowledge, ideas, opinions, and concerns about education, they stay engaged in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools. When students feel compressed, repressed, or oppressed within schools, they disconnect from the teachers with the best intentions, the classes with the finest honed curriculums, and the most supportive learning environments to be crafted.

5 Steps to Fight Student Burnout

While we continue to move into this post-pandemic reality of educating students in highly compromised classrooms, we should center all of our work on engaging students by empowering authentic student voice. Here are some ways you can do that.

  1. Make space for student voice everyday »
  2. Build the power of students to share their voices »
  3. Network with other educators committed to fostering Meaningful Student Involvement in classrooms »
  4. Engage students with passion-oriented teaching methods »
  5. Consciously foster student voice in your classroom all the time »

If you see the potential and possibilities for student voice to combat student burnout but you’re not sure where to start, contact us today. SoundOut is excited to partner with K-12 educators and schools that are committed to Meaningful Student Involvement — find out why!

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Examples Strategies

Responsive Student Voices

Students at the SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp in Seattle, Washington
Students at the SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp in Seattle, Washington

SoundOut defines student voice as any expression of any learner about anything, any where, anytime related to learning, schools or education.

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

This is an example of student voice graffiti
Student voice expressed through graffiti can take a lot of different forms.

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 adults to 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.

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SoundOut Student Engagement Rubric

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 to serve as a personal status check to recognize whether or not student engagement is successful.

This is the SoundOut Student Engagement Rubric by Adam Fletcher for It shows the challenges and rewards for different ways students are engaged in schools.
This is the SoundOut Student Engagement Rubric by Adam Fletcher for It shows the challenges and rewards for different ways students are engaged in schools.

When coupled with the SoundOut Ladder of Student Involvement, a powerful 1-2 system for evaluation emerges. Student voice is shown as a moveable object that we can all learn from, engage with, and grow through everyday, all of the time.

For more information including workshops to support student engagement, contact us!

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Daily Meaningful Student Involvement

Every day, every student all around the world should experience meaningful involvement. It doesn’t have to be special, unique, different or exceptional. It also doesn’t have to be a standardized experience.


Meaningful Student Involvement is for every learner and every adult in every school, everywhere, all of the time!
Meaningful Student Involvement can happen through learning, teaching and leadership with every learner and every adult in every school, everywhere, all of the time!


Here are 5 ways daily meaningful student involvement can happen.

  1. Morning meetings—Every morning, there are grade school teachers that host morning meetings with their classes. In the middle and high school levels, these could be adapted as mini-meetings, or even interpreted as advisory classes. Morning meetings can give students space to share their ideas and knowledge about classes and school, and can open dialogue to promote student-adult partnerships.
  2. Advisory—Research supports student advisory classes. These can be innovative, creative spaces where teachers can re-imagine traditional relationships between teachers and students, and among students themselves. Many schools have used advisory classes to build communication, solve problems, and establish a positive, supportive school climate.
  3. Student voice—For a long time, student voice was treated only as a way to listen to students in big school decision-making, and as the vehicle for making students read school newspapers. However, today we understand that student voice should be integrated throughout teaching, learning, curriculum and evaluation matters. When students see themselves and hear their voices in everything taught throughout schools, schools improve.
  4. Restorative justice—More than simply being a discipline procedure, restorative justice is a new approach to establishing, sustaining and re-inventing school culture. Students work as partners with adults in schools to communicate, solve problems and establish a nonviolent, nonhierarchal way of being. It requires a day-by-day commitment by everyone though, and is maintained through constant adherence and frequent renewal.
  5. Service learning—Infusing the positive, powerful potential of students throughout school improvement to foster successful learning and teaching can happen through the dynamic approach known as service learning. Think of project based learning focused on others’ well-being instead of our own, helping to lift up schools and make them better for everyone! Embedded in every curricular area are thousands of examples, with many dedicated to making schools better places.


Meaningful student involvement shouldn’t be an exceptional experience for just a few students in particular schools reflecting certain circumstances; instead, it should be the daily reality for every learner in every school, everywhere, all of the time.


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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher




Experiential Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

Since it is one of the things that can make student involvement meaningful, experiential education is a at the center of Meaningful Student Involvement. Experiential education is any learning that happens through direct experience, whether it has intentionally stated learning goals or whether learning remains nebulous, interpretive or unspoken. Students create knowledge, skills and values from active, hands-on activities both inside and outside classrooms.



The key idea in experiential education is engaging student voice in action in order to foster learning. Both through teacher-facilitated activities and student-led action, students experience real situations with real outcomes. Meaningful Student Involvement encourages students and educators to see each other as learning partners, refusing to put either role in an inferior position. Instead of seeing learning as a passive, receptive activity, experiential education can encourage students and educators to see learning as interactive and limitless.


Roles for Students

When learning moves from focusing on rote memorization and desk time (time-on-task) towards interactivity, engagement and solving real-world problems, students have to begin seeing it in different ways. They quickly assume ownership of learning, teaching and leadership. Becoming immeshed in activities, they can learn to see education as a non-linear, lifelong activity they’re capable of initiating, building, sustaining and critically examining. Through Meaningful Student Involvement, they can become education researchers, school planners, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and education advocates.

These roles, and many others, allow students to see knowledge as an active, engaged process they can invest in. Active learning can also move students into the broader community outside the walls of schools. Students interact with the surrounding area, whether in the geographic features, natural spaces, built environment, social gatherings, political and government, or other activities and places. Interacting with adults in dynamic, new roles, they can actually transform adult perspectives of students and alter expectations for learning and the school in the larger community. Experiencing increasingly independent and self-directed learning, experiential learning can also lead to extensive use of technology, different and more collaborative relationships between students and adults, and several other features. (Schroeder, 2005)

Whether learning through life or lifelike situations, in experiential education opportunities, students can develop views of educators as facilitators or co-learners and views of themselves as owners and facilitators of their own learning. This is a key outcome of Meaningful Student Involvement.


Roles for Teachers

In order to effectively facilitate experiential education, the roles of teachers have to transform, too. Without the ability to predict direct outcomes from chosen learning activities, teachers have to become nimble facilitators and co-learners. Working alongside students, teachers reflect with students and respond to outcomes throughout learning activities. Instead of being mechanistic curriculum deliverers, teachers respond to students’ diverse engagement styles by adapting their approaches, activities and expectations.

In experiential education, educators also move from being traditional knowledge transmitters towards becoming learning coaches. Acting as student learning support specialists, experiential education can allow educators to see the entirety of students. This is one reason why its key to Meaningful Student Involvement.

Ultimately, teachers may need different supports in order to meet the demands of experiential education. Sizer (1984) suggested they include, “altered teaching loads, new student activities, diplomas based on achievement, and curriculum simplification”.


Experiential Education Activities

Depending on the situation, teachers using experiential education approaches can use a variety of activities, such as:


Types of Experiential Education

Experiential education can include many different learning approaches that can also make student involvement meaningful. They can include:

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Teaching Tools

SoundOut Learning Toolbox

For more than a decade, SoundOut has been sharing some of the very best ways students say they learn in schools. There are specific ways students know they become engaged in class and through Meaningful Student Involvement. Following is a list of different approaches we include. Each is explored on its webpage, along with resources and more. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Learning Through Meaningful Student Involvement


SoundOut Teaching Tools

  • The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum is a collection of twenty-seven session plans, a facilitator’s guide, a student handbook and an evaluation guide designed to teach high school students about how they can become partners in changing schools. Units include students as planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates for education.
  • The SoundOut Skill Building Lesson Plans features more than 20 workshop outlines designed to help learning groups explore different aspects of Meaningful Student Involvement and Student/Adult Partnerships. All exercises are hands-on, interactive, and focused on taking action. The workshops are designed for learners of all ages, including student-only and adult-only groups.


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Lesson plans Workshops

Lesson Plan on Creating Roles for Students and Adults


This is a lesson plan on creating roles for students and adults to support Meaningful Student Involvement.


This inquiry-based lesson plan requires a group of 4-40 students and adults. This activity was adapted from Youth Empowerment: A Training Guide (1990) created by CampFire, Inc.


When this session is complete, participants should be able to…

  • Provide the opportunity to carefully think through how to involve students in programs.
  • Deepen understanding of the work and commitment required for effective Student-Adult Partnerships


90 minutes


Flip chart paper and markers; copies of the worksheets from the end of this workshop.


Enough to accommodate the group


While not necessary, it is helpful if participants have first completed Exploring Group Strengths and Weaknesses and Students and Adults as Ideal Partners, both located in this section. Greater knowledge of individual strengths and interests, as well as what is needed to be an effective partner, helps to ground this activity in reality.


1. Split the group into groups of about 5 people each, depending on size of group. Groups should be mixed students and adults. Half the groups will work on roles for adults; the other half on roles for students.

2. Hand out the appropriate worksheet to each group. Have participants work in their groups to complete them.

3. Groups report back on the roles they developed. Allow for questions and comments.

4. Close with a discussion, including:

  • What was it like to create these roles?
  • How realistic do you think the descriptions are? Why or why not?
  • How might you apply these job descriptions to your work together?

Worksheet: Defining the Role of a Student

Describe the role for students.

Answer the following questions about the opportunity:

  1. Is this a real job? What is its usefulness to the class or school?
  2. Will this position lead someone to greater responsibility in the class or school?
  3. Is adequate support and supervision available from the staff? Do staff know how to supervise?
  4. What skills, training, experience, and knowledge will students gain from this opportunity?

Answer the following questions about possible candidates for this opportunity:

  1. Who will really want to fill this role? Is this work that is of interest or value to some students? Why?
  2. What knowledge, skills and attitudes are necessary to succeed in this role?
  3. How can you adjust the work schedule, quantity of work accomplished, quality of work accomplished, nature of training, responsibility for others, degree and kind of supervision, formal reporting requirements, and other parts of the opportunity so that more students might qualify?

Worksheet: Defining the Role of an Adult

Describe Opportunity Here:

Answer the following questions about the opportunity:

  1. Specifically what will this person need to do to make Student-Adult Partnerships work?
  2. How is this different from existing opportunities in the class or school?
  3. What kind of resources (time, training, other) will the person need in order to be successful?

Answer the following questions about possible candidates for the opportunity:

  1. What knowledge, skills attitudes, and other qualifications are necessary to succeed at this role?
  2. How could you determine if someone was suited for this role?

SoundOut Skill Building Lesson Plans
SoundOut Facilitates Workshops... Contact us to learn more!

These lesson plans were created by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut under contract from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction funded through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. All contents ©2007 SoundOut. Permission to use is granted exclusively for nonprofit and in-school education purposes only. All Rights Reserved.

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Activities Teaching

Student Voice Reflection Questions

It is important to reflect. The final part of the Cycle of Engagement, reflection provides student/adult partners an opportunity to identify what they’ve learned, why they’ve learned it and what difference it can make. Students and adults should reflect on student voice together, as equitable partners. Without reflection, student voice activities can feel like a dead end.

Whether happening in classrooms, hallways, boardrooms or other places throughout education, reflection is a powerful tool in learning. Student voice requires participants learn from it too, instead of simply pretending like they’re learning anew every single time. When people do this, it forms an important continuum of action. Following are some reflection questions for student voice activities.


Student Voice Reflection Questions

  • Are barriers to student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement being addressed?
  • What steps are taken to ensure that student voice is meaningful?
  • Do students understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes?
  • Do students know who made the decisions about their engagement and why they were made?
  • Is the input of students recorded, reported in writing, and distributed?
  • Do students receive a report (verbal or in writing) on the decisions made in the light of their input?
  • Were false and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate deliberately addressed by students and/or adults?
  • Are all adults clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement?
  • Do adults support Meaningful Student Involvement?
  • Do adults provide good examples of being personally and systemically engaged?
  • How was students’ inexperience addressed?


  • Did students work on issues that they clearly identify as important?
  • Did students participating start with short-term goals and activities?
  • Have students and adults identified and, when possible, corrected negative experiences students have had in participation?
  • What steps were taken to reduce the resistance from adults?
  • Has there been a written policy statement developed from the governing body?
  • Has there been a memo/document from the school leader stating their support, encouragement, and commitment to aningful Student Involvement?
  • Has the principal or superintendent introduced Meaningful Student Involvement at a meeting?
  • Have there been social events organized to increase positive interactions between students and adults?
  • Have joint workshops with students and adults been held?
  • Has a plan been put in place to bring students into the mainstream, core activities of the class or school?
  • Have steps been taken to help students fit into adult structures?


  • Have students been placed on an adult decision-making body with support from a designated adult?
  • Does someone meet with students before meetings to help them clarify their objectives for the meeting?
  • Do students feel comfortable about asking for clarification?
  • What steps have been taken to make the location and times of meetings convenient to students?
    • Consulting with the students involved about times/dates of meetings?
    • Choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation?
  • 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?
  • How are the student members selected so that they are credible to the student body?
  • How do you know that they are credible?


These are some of SoundOut’s recommended reflection questions for student voice activities. What are some of yours? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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