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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SoundOut Student Voice Summits

SoundOut SpeakOut Conference 2005 in Bothell, Washington

Since 2002, the SoundOut Student Voice Summits have served as launching pads for meaningful student involvement in districts across the United States.

Description

In a special in-school program, the SoundOut Student Voice Summit engages groups of traditional and non-traditional student leaders and focuses their energy, knowledge and ideas on how students can improve schools.

Using a series of hands-on, interactive activities, students share their concerns about school and ideas for what can change. Through skill-building and knowledge-sharing exercises, students also increase their sense of efficacy and their desire to be active agents of positive education transformation.

The closing of the SoundOut Student Voice Summit features students presenting their own school improvement plans.

Afterward, plans will be implemented, each school will create a report, and San Rafael City Schools will celebrate the outcomes locally, and the results will be shared internationally by Adam Fletcher.

Participants

  • Between 30-100 traditional and non-traditional student leaders elementary, middle or senior high schools
  • A smaller group of highly supportive, engaged, and sustainably involved adult allies, including teachers, building leaders, parents, and/or district officials.

Process

  1. Each school identifies student/adult partner teams
  2. Each participant receives a copy of The Guide to Student Voice
  3. Each team reviews the content of the Guide to Student Voice
  4. Each school sends a student/adult team with their copies of The Guide to Student Voice to the SoundOut Summit
  5. Each school team creates a SoundOut Plan
  6. Each school team completes the implementation of their SoundOut Plans
  7. Each school collects outcomes and generates a SoundOut report; each school presents their outcomes to their local school board and shares with SoundOut
  8. Local schools and districts celebrate the outcomes through district communications and they’re announced on soundout.org

Outcomes

  1. Students identify areas of improvement within their schools
  2. Students increase their skills and knowledge related to school improvement
  3. Students generate plans that can be implemented to improve their own schools
  4. Schools experience the positive, powerful potential of student voice

Logistics

To discuss pricing, dates and logistics, contact SoundOut.

Find schools that have hosted SoundOut Student Voice Summits!

 

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2016 SoundOut Summer Camp

The 2016 SoundOut Summer Camp happens August 1-11 at Cleveland High School in Seattle

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Summer Camp Day Four: Reform or Transform?

Seattle students at the SoundOut Summer Camp

Taking the bull by the horns, on the forth day of SoundOut Summer Camp students grappled with the difference between reforming schools and transforming education. Throughout the day, they were virtually bombarded with teambuilding and communication games, asked repeatedly to identify for themselves what works in schools and what should change while in the next breath they watch videos about what other students want to change in schools.

Taking a step from the more organized projects around the world, we watched videos from:

 

We also studied the history of student involvement, student voice and student power movements throughout history. I coupled the powerful new book, Teenage Rebelswith historic books like Student Power, Participation and Revolution and the awesome book Student Power. In the course of those books, students found stories about their city of Seattle from the 60s through the 80s, as well as stories about students of color they could relate to.

The question of reforming schools or transforming schools was central to the day. Constantly reminded of the importance of that issue, they asked each other where their school was at, what they’d seen and experienced before, and where they saw schools going in the future. The students pulled no punches, identifying that a lot of innovative practices sounded like things their white, middle and upper class peers around the city would experience before they would. They also said schools might change fast in other places, but their own schools seemed stuck in the past sometimes.

It was an enlightening day for me as a facilitator and writer, since these students were on the cusp of a new place I want to go in this work. Let’s see what time continues to share!

 

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  • Summer Camp Day Five

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Students as Integrated ResourceS (SIRS)

At Hudson High School of Teaching Technology in New York City, New York, students can participate in a program called Students as Integrated ResourceS, or SIRS. The program positions students in active student/adult partnerships that can foster Meaningful Student Involvement.

According to the teachers who operate it,  students volunteer and come in after school to participate in a hands on activity. In this setting, students and teachers discussed challenges, understandings, and possible mistakes. When their peers do the same activity in class, these specially trained students act as teachers who answer questions, help with procedures, monitor safety, and even engage the unmotivated individuals.

These SIRS have become an integrated and a necessary part of the class. On an occasion, one student who raised their hand for help saw a teacher coming and said “No, no. I want a SIRS.”

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