SoundOut is an
expert assistance program focused on promoting
Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement
We work with K-12
schools, districts, state and provincial education
agencies, and nonprofit education organizations
across the United States and Canada.
Student Voice in
School Building Leadership
by Adam Fletcher
In a growing number of schools
across the United States, students are becoming involved in
decision-making activities that affect themselves, their peers, and their
whole school. Many schools wrestle with exactly which decisions to allow
students to make.
In 1998, then-doctoral candidate George Patmor conducted a statewide
survey of high school schools in Kentucky. He measured 310 students and
adults opinions about how students should be involved in school
The following 14 Choices are taken from Dr. Patmor's dissertation.
He drew them directly from the school-based decision-making model adopted
by the state of Kentucky as a main component of their education reform
efforts in the 1990s. For each choice there is a rationale and possible
NEW ROLES FOR STUDENT LEADERSHIP IN SCHOOLS
Deciding the number of employees in each school position.
Students can be involved in prescribing the personnel resources
dedicated to a topic in order to better meet their needs. In the
process they can learn about the budgetary ability and the systemic
structuring of the education system.
Selecting textbooks and instructional materials.
Who better to choose what students
can learn from than students themselves? With appropriate
instruction and guidance from adults, students can critically review
the tools their peers can use in class. Students can learn critical
thinking and group process, as well as examine the dominant cultural
and social influences on schooling.
Selecting a new principal when there is a vacancy.
School leadership requires an palpable commitment to constituency;
for students, these overt gestures should go choosing prom night
colors or class songs. With training in authentic student voice and
meaningful student involvement, students can partner with adults to
hire principals who are responsive and engaging. Lessons from this
process include communication skills, teamwork, and structural
Consulting with principal when other vacancies are filled.
By working as partners in school
leadership students can support principals' decision-making. This
form of consultation encourages principal leadership while securing
the responsiveness and deliberation staff hiring should have.
Students can learn about decision-making processes, collaboration,
and personnel management.
Deciding what is to be taught.
Schools can become responsive to the needs and dreams of students
through student-led course selection. This allows current
technology, social issues, and student voice to become engaged in
the classroom; in turn, students can learn about current events and
develop critical thinking in an appropriate, applicable context.
Deciding which teaching methods will be used.
What better classroom allies do
students need than teachers themselves? Learning about teaching
methods, multiple intelligences, and classroom delivery can help
students become more empathetic and understanding of the pressures
and possibilities of school; it can also help them develop
course-specific knowledge and rigorous knowledge application.
Deciding which classes teachers will teach.
When linguistic learners are crammed into a room with a kinesthetic
teacher, there is not a lot of room for compromise or balance.
Students guidance in teacher assignments can help school leaders
establish clear connections between teacher characteristics and
student engagement. Students learn about their own needs and become
more apt at identifying possible areas of growth and learning.
Deciding which classes students will take.
Educators are striving to find relevancy in the lives of young
people today. Engaging students in class selection will encourage
young people to become more committed learners and to see the
connections between school and life. They can also learn about
current issues, social pressure, and classroom management.
Deciding how time will be used during the day.
In many schools the scheduling of the
school day has become an enigmatic brew of "on days" and "off days,"
colored and coded and confused to no ends. Student involvement will
allow a more user-driven, simplified approach to meeting the needs
of students. It will also encourage students to apply their math,
communication, and assessment skills.
Deciding how the school building will be used.
Students can help determine the
necessary class sizes, refurbishing components, and redesign
considerations by applying their experiences in the physical school
plant. They can also become ambassadors for the school as a
community resource. They can learn about individual and community
needs, as well as building consensus among users.
Making discipline and classroom management policies.
Students are often more harsh than
adults in developing policies. This process can help educators learn
about the valid concerns students have about discipline, and can
unveil the oft secret feeling many young people feel schools
perpetuate. This process can help teach them about making wise
choices and accountability.
Deciding issues concerning extracurricular activities.
Over-emphasis on athletic activities
may be out of sync with student interests. Student involvement in
this area can encourage new thinking about extracurricular
activities and their role in the school environment. Students can
also learn about budgeting, decision-making, and advocacy skills.
Determining how available funds are to be spent.
Understanding the intricacies of
school funding can help students become informed consumers and
partners in schools. Students can also develop creative solutions to
school funding issues. The can learn applied mathematics, current
issues in government spending, and social factors influencing school
Planning activities for teacher in-service days.
Student guidance can help teachers
become more responsive to student needs, and ensure student empathy
for teachers. This process can teach consensus and empathy, as well
as lessons about scheduling, issues in schools, and funding.
these proposals might sound radical, there is a growing awareness
about their efficacy as teaching tools. A recent commentary in
Education Week shared the story of Kennebunk High School in Maine,
where students "participate in virtually every decision in the
school." According to the article, this includes self-evaluation, a
purposeful student council, and student representation on the local
are numerous stories about how student involvement in budgetary
decisions have saved schools thousands of dollars. Students in
York, participated in a class project to re-construct the school
budget with consideration to recent budget cuts. Their creative
solution could have saved their local district thousands of dollars,
while keeping programs in line with student needs and expectations. In
Anne Arundel County, Maryland, students have had a full-voting member
of the school board for years. The McGill
Plan is so-named after the student board member who proposed modifying
the bus schedule during high school mid-term and final exams. This
move saves the district $100,000 annually.
Nova Project High School in Seattle, students have been involved in
teacher hiring for more than 30 years. They have been responsible for
numerous "coups," including one where the principal's choice wasn't
an article in the local newspaper, the principal argued
passionately about her choice until a freshman turned to her and said:
"Elaine, you've said enough now. Let's get to the vote."
in Kentucky, Dr. Patmor's study found that there is a hierarchy of
interest among students and adults about student involvement in these
decisions. He found that both groups strongly agreed that students
should be involved in decision about extracurricular issues, which
classes students take, how time is used during the day, and discipline
and classroom management policies.
study also found that there is strong agreement between students and
adults about students lack of need to be involved in determining the
number of employees in each job, planning professional development,
and filling job vacancies.
study, as well as these 14 choices, provide interesting possibilities
to school leaders interested in involving students. They can also
provide great fodder for student energy for advocating student
SoundOut has worked in more than 100 K-12 schools and districts
across the United States and around the world. Learn more
and for more information