Transforming Student Voice into Meaningful Student Involvement

Transforming Student Voice into Meaningful Student Involvement

Back in 2000, I was working as the first-ever student engagement specialist at the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the course of my work, I conducted a scan of activities across the United States, Canada and around the world through which students were improving schools. I found a lot of terms used frequently and interchangeably, like student empowerment and student leadership. I also found a few terms that weren’t talked about much that I wanted to explore.

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One of those terms was student voice. Generally used as a synonym for student actions to change school or in curriculum as students sharing their experiences in class, this term fascinated me. Packed with potential, I read through the scant amounts of studies, articles and other literature available then and decided that the term was a cloak of sorts: Instead of being authentic, genuine or substantial, student voice was often slapped on any information adults were seeking and students were replying to.

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I wanted to differentiate that types of student involvement. Talking with educators and students around Washington state, I found the phrase Meaningful Student Involvement to be useful, and ran with it.

Differences between issues

Adam Fletcher works with student leaders who are improving their schools in Arizona.
Adam Fletcher works with student leaders who are improving their schools in Arizona.
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Student voice is any expression of any student, anywhere, at any time related to schools, learning and education. Meaningful Student Involvement is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community, and democracy.

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Student voice…

  • Doesn’t necessarily change education
  • Doesn’t require schools to change
  • Doesn’t require adults to change
  • Doesn’t require students to change
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Meaningful Student Involvement…

  • Is systemwide action for school improvement
  • Fosters deep student/adult commitment
  • Requires whole school transformation
  • Supports deep learning by students and adults
  • Expands possibilities for students and adults
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Students changing schools - A comparison of student voice and meaningful student involvement
This is a comparison of student voice and meaningful student involvement from Fletcher, A. (2017) Student Voice Revolution.
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Surely these two areas overlap, and it can be said that student voice is a foundation of Meaningful Student Involvement. However, on its own, student voice doesn’t not require, obligate or otherwise compel schools to be difference. The research-driven Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement do require substance, purpose and outcomes beyond appearances.

Moving from here to there

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Are you a K-12 school teacher who is interested in shifting their perspective from student voice to Meaningful Student Involvement? Maybe you’re a school leader, principal or headmaster who wants to engage students as partners in formal school improvement processes. Perhaps you work in a state or provincial education agency, or a local or regional school district. Are you a K-12 student who is ready for something more?

Elements to transformation

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My work with more than 300+ K-12 schools in dozens of districts across the United States and around the world has led me to understand there are certain elements to transforming student voice into Meaningful Student Involvement. People in any role can build a team to move these elements into place. Here are what they look like.

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These are SoundOut's elements of transforming student voice to meaningful student involvement.

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  1. Assess. Look closely at what is currently happening in your location, whether a school, district or otherwise. Examine it for whether you’re listening to student voice, or fostering Meaningful Student Involvement, using our tools.
  2. Plan. Through deliberation, strategic action planning can transform schools. Overarching objectives, SMART goals, responsible partners and accountable student/adult partnerships have to be intact throughout. SoundOut’s planning tools allow educators and students to partner together while meeting real needs throughout their schools, districts and beyond.
  3. Educate. A lot of people assume that they will intuitively and inherently understand Meaningful Student Involvement, and that’s simply not true. You can’t make up the process; there is research that shows there are characteristics to adhere to.
  4. Systematize. Don’t try the scatterplot approach; instead, use the education system to structurally transform the roles of students throughout schools. Examine decision-making critically and purposeful challenge apathy.
  5. Support. Fostering Meaningful Student Involvement isn’t a one-time activity. Instead, it must be continuously sought-out, built, deconstructed, rebuilt and examined once more. Support must happen throughout every place Meaningful Student Involvement is intended to happen. There must be deliberately placed champions, succinctly enacted strategic plans, committed cultural and structural scaffolding, and authentic evaluations throughout.
  6. Celebrate. As students move closer to partnership with educators and further from being the consumers of schools, its essential to move their values to the forefront. One of these is celebration, which can allow adults in schools to lift up success, challenge being overwhelmed and support the ongoing evolution of schools. It can also let student creativity, enthusiasm and capacity for joy to come to the forefront, rescuing adults from our own cynicism.

After helping launch hundreds of Meaningful Student Involvement projects, these are the elements that have come clear to me as keys for transformation. What do you think matters most? I’d love to read your feedback in the comments below – please share!

 

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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 http://amzn.to/2xL3obn

 

 

SoundOut Student Voice Series

SoundOut Student Voice Series is now available!

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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Roles for Students throughout the Education System

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

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

  • 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 OrganizersCommunity 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 AdvocatesWhen 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 AdvisorsWhen 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. [Examples]
  • Students as Grant-makersStudents can identify funding, distribute grants, evaluate effectiveness, and conduct other parts of the process involved in grant-making.
  • Students as LobbyistsInfluencing policy-makers, legislators, politicians, and the people who work for them are among the activities for students as lobbyists.
  • Students as TrainersWhen 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 PoliticiansRunning 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 entrepreneursWhen 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 staffWhen 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-MakersMaking 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-MakersWhen 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.

 

These are merely some of the roles. What others can YOU think of? 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 (2014) by Adam Fletcher for SoundOut

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