SoundOut Ideas to Transform Schools: Ten BIG Ideas

Adam Fletcher in Kentucky 2014
SoundOut’s Adam Fletcher presenting “10 Big Ideas” to educators in Kentucky.

 

For almost 15 years, SoundOut has been working to improve schools in the United States and Canada. During this time, we’ve focused on three primary platforms: Student voice, student engagement and Meaningful Student Involvement. Based on our studies and practice, we have many ideas about improving schools. Following are ten of the most important ones.

  1. Infuse Meaningful Student Involvement into every school’s improvement plan, everywhere and for every student.
  2. Teach all students about education as a process, as an institution and as a democratic responsibility.
  3. Educate every teacher in every school about all aspects of students’ cultures.
  4. Create opportunities for students to co-lead federal, state and district educational policymaking.
  5. Establish every student as an active, empowered and engaged partner in every aspect of schools and throughout the entire education system.
  6. Engage every educator in exploring the roles of discrimination throughout education.
  7. Develop standard opportunities for all students to research education, in  either elementary, middle or high school.
  8. Promote widespread understanding of adultism throughout the education system.
  9. Foster policies, professional development, student training and other sustainable supports for Meaningful Student Involvement.
  10. Challenge all student tokenism in all education settings, everywhere, all the time.

 

 

1. Infuse Meaningful Student Involvement into every school’s improvement plan, everywhere and for every student. Through currently existing programs and efforts, Meaningful Student Involvement can enliven, encourage and empower student/adult partnerships. Using the frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement, educators and students can transform all parts of schools, including the culture and climate, the curriculum and assessment, the student support services, building leadership and extracurricular activities, as well as community connections and beyond. Learn more about school transformation through Meaningful Student Involvement.

Where its happening right nowAt Park Forest Elementary School in State College, the Lead Learner (aka principal) Donnan Stoicovy has been using Meaningful Student Involvement as a guiding principle for more than a decade. Her efforts have created an elaborately healthy approach to student/adult partnerships throughout the school’s curriculum and culture, encouraging every learner to become engaged, empowered and successful.

 

2. Teach all students about education as a process, as an institution and as a democratic responsibility. Schools can begin empowering every learner by teaching them what education is, how it happens, how it affects them and what they can do to improve it by teaching students about education as a process, an institution and as a democratic responsibility. Like Toto running up to the Wizard of Oz’s curtain and pulling it back, students need to learn that school is not a mysterious process or unmovable force. Learn more about the purpose of schools.

Where its happening right nowSince the early 1970s, NOVA Project High School in Seattle, Washington, has been engaging students as partners. In the course of their learning, students explore their roles in the school and throughout the larger community. They become active in social change projects, lead school improvement activities and partner with educators and others in school decision-making.

 

3. Educate every teacher in every school about all aspects of student cultures. Student cultures are as varied and diverse as the entirety of North America. Even within homogenized communities, there is diversity of thought, opinion and belief that isn’t obvious to the naked eye. Teachers should learn to envision, identify, foster, embrace and enhance student cultures, giving students the abilities they need to be themselves throughout schools. Learn more about student cultures.

Where its happening right nowEducators with the kid∙FRIENDLy project in Kentucky have been taught about student culture from students and SoundOut staff. Working with hundreds of classroom teachers and building leaders from the western part of the state, SoundOut helped educators learn about the diversity of students today, they different ways students perceive their educations, and a variety of ways educators can embrace student voice right now.

 

4. Create opportunities for students to co-lead federal, state and district educational policymaking. Educational decision-making at all levels needs to include students as partners. Empowering and infusing student/adult partnerships into schools, its essential that students have opportunities to deeply affect, address, create and critique district, state and federal educational policymaking. With equal numbers of elected, full voting positions on school boards, regularly hired spots in education agencies, and appointed seats on committees, students will be seen and treated as partners, not only at school but throughout the entirety of the education system. Learn more about student voice in education agencies.

Where its happening right nowStudents on the Alberta Minster of Education’s Student Advisory Council have been informing the provincial Alberta Education agency as they plan and implement school improvement for more than 5 years. Affecting everyone of the provinces 61 school districts, the Council has shared opinions and ideas about dozens of topics with Ministry officials. Focusing primarily on the question of how to promote student engagement throughout education, the Council has influenced decisions on curriculum, teacher prep, and many other issues.

 

5. Establish every student as an active, empowered and engaged partner in every aspect of schools and throughout the entire education system. Routinely asking the same students to be active again and again only perpetuates an ineffective vision for student leadership. New opportunities should be created and sustained for every student in every school, not just the convenient students in traditional roles. Learn more about traditional and nontraditional student voice.

Where its happening right nowFor almost a decade, Youth and Adults Transforming Education Together, or YATST, has been working to transform the entire education system from within. School-level teams work to study and transform their buildings, while the program works statewide to ensure student knowledge and ability is kept at top levels with training, networking and other activities. State-level officials stay in-touch with the program regularly, and recent legislation was passed to ensure longterm sustainability for the program.

 

6. Engage every educator in exploring the roles of discrimination throughout education. Whether they are elementary class teachers, senior high literature teachers, building leaders, elected district officials or appointed state school board members, every educator has a responsibility to identify, examine, critique and denounce discrimination throughout education. This happens from the delivery of classroom content to the development of assessments; from behavior practices to parent involvement. Learn more about discrimination in education.

Where its happening right nowA growing awareness of adultism in schools is driving several national organizations to adopt new policies, approaches and programs. They include the Southern Poverty Law Center, which features a lesson plan about adultism on their website. This lesson plan is intended to help educators understand what they may consciously or unconsciously be doing in schools and how that affects students.

 

7. Develop standard opportunities for all students to research, plan, teach, evaluate, make decisions and advocate within the education system, in  either elementary, middle or high school. Every student should experience the depth and breadth of Meaningful Student Involvement throughout their education careers. Starting in kindergarten, all students should have gradually expanding and deepening opportunities to learn, grow and lead schools. Learn more about growing through Meaningful Student Involvement.

Where its happening right nowWith a focus on whole school Meaningful Student Involvement, Jefferson County Open School has implemented a K-12 approach to education for more than 40 years. Students have opportunities to lead, partner and implement many parts of the educative process, as well as the school itself.

 

8. Promote widespread understanding of adultism throughout the education system. Adultism is bias towards adults, consequently resulting in discrimination against students. Adultism is present in the very assumption behind public schools, which is that all young people should be forced to attend. Continuing from there, adultism becomes obvious in school design; curriculum and assessment; teaching and classroom management; building leadership; state policy; and beyond. Learn about adultism in schools.

Where its happening right now: Do you know of a school where this is happening? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

9. Foster policies, professional development, student training and other sustainable supports for Meaningful Student Involvement. Every effort should be made and supported to address, identify and implement policies that support Meaningful Student Involvement, as well as policies that are barriers to student/adult partnerships. From there, new and rewritten policies should be written that emphasize Meaningful Student Involvement. Different approaches, ideas and abilities need to be implemented and evaluated, all centered on Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more about policies affecting Meaningful Student Involvement.

Where its happening right now: Do you know of a school where this is happening? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

10. Encourage Meaningful Student Involvement in all education settings, everywhere, all the time. When students, educators, administrators, parents and community partners are empowered with the knowledge of Meaningful Student Involvement, they are automatically charged with challenging status quo. Rather than just knowing about it, people who learn about Meaningful Student Involvement must feel compelled to do something about it. Standing still is simply no longer an option. Learn more about Meaningful Student Involvement.

Where its happening right now: Do you know of a school where this is happening? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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