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Beyond the invitation: Four ways to engage student voice

Reprinted with permission. First appeared as a blog post on ChalkBloggers, Chalkboard Project's Blog about education innovation reaching educators across Oregon.

The next generation is raising its voice, demanding to be heard, and it is time that we paid attention. As the advisor to Oregon Student Voice (OSV), my job is to support students as they develop a statewide student-led organization. OSV just wrapped up their first pilot year and they have a lot to show for it. They hosted 15 youth development trainings, submitted written testimony and lobbied legislators to pass House Bill 2845, published two opinion pieces in the Oregonian, and they just released their first report, “State of Our schools: Examining Oregon’s high schools through students’ eyes”.

OSV has taught me that when you give students the opportunity to make changes in their educational system, it ignites real passion. I have witnessed these students take what they have learned in OSV and apply it in their schools. They are becoming more engaged and speaking with administration about challenges they or their peers have in school. So how can educators support students as they continue to expand their skills around student voice?

  1. Go beyond the invitation. Don’t just invite students to sit at the table, ensure that they are authentic partners in decision making. Students must be part of the conversation and believe that their input is valuable; otherwise, students can feel tokenized. Help students participate by asking for their ideas and engaging them in the conversation.

  2. Not just the usual suspects. There is tendency to invite students already involved in leadership roles, such as student government members, to engage. Educators need to make an effort to open the invitation up to students that are struggling in the system and that don’t typically have a voice.

  3. Follow through, follow through, follow through! A key to any great relationship is being dependable. It is important that students believe educators not only want to hear their input, but will find a way to utilize their ideas to make change. If you don’t decide to use their feedback, circle back with them and tell them why.

  4. Understand the distinction between student voice and student feedback. Student feedback solicits student opinions while student voice gives students the opportunity to authentically participate and gives them a seat at the decision-making table.

These are just a few ideas to help foster and sustain the success of student voice. I challenge us to begin to shift our thinking, processes, and vocabulary when we talk about education stakeholders to include students.

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