Some lessons can’t be taught according to the curriculum. Build strong leaders in class by cultivating student voice, even among your shy students.

The school days of a student’s formative years can be tough. Striving for good grades, excelling at extracurricular activities, navigating family issues at home, enduring an unstable living situation, and carrying the burden of feeling that adults have all the control can be overwhelming. While children need adults to guide them, providing opportunities to contribute input regarding their own education can help kids feel they have a role in deciding their learning path. Try these tips to help those in your classroom, building, and district develop a powerful student voice.

1. Promote the Power of Student Government

student voiceParticipation in student government isn’t only reserved for overachieving students who want to impress college admissions officers. To keep a finger on the pulse of school activity, all students should be open to participating in the group that can work with officials to possibly shape policy. Not only does serving in school government cultivate valuable leadership skills, participation allows children to approach administration with a stronger student voice.

2. Plan a Class Trip to School Board Meetings

Last May, students in California’s Montebello neighborhood walked out of classes, marched to the city’s school district headquarters, and participated in a meeting with officials to oppose layoffs that could cut the jobs of more than 300 staff members. This event was not the first, as these students have been engaged since a decision in March that would eliminate teaching, administration, and maintenance positions to resolve a budget deficit totaling millions of dollars. Remain informed regarding dates of school board meetings and the issues that will be discussed, and share this information with students to encourage participation.

3. Support the School Newspaper

student voiceWithin the current climate of media, many illegitimate outlets that publish fake news are challenging the reputations of trusted, reliable sources. Empower students while teaching valuable lessons regarding legitimate news reporting by encouraging children to join — or launch — a school newspaper. Use this opportunity to educate students regarding proper research methods, conducting thorough investigations, and just saying “no” to plagiarism. Give examples of how student journalists have exposed corruption in their schools, such as those in Kansas’ Pittsburg High School who investigated a new principal and questioned the legitimacy of her credentials. The principal eventually resigned.

4. Show the Power of Student Voices

Around the country, students are taking action to take part in the decisions that will affect their education. As Americans rediscover their rights to engage in peaceful protest, children are also embracing this option to strengthen their student voice. Tayon Hart, a senior at New Jersey’s Lakewood High School marched out of class during a rally with classmates in mid-May to protest teacher layoffs, telling the Asbury Park Press “We need justice for the school…We love our teachers, we love our school…We want to make a difference. We want our voice to be heard. A lot of our teachers, they want to speak out, but they can’t. So we’re speaking out for them…This is a school where we’re all a family.” Share this, and similar stories, with students for inspiration to draw upon.

5. Come Together

student voiceWithout the support of their teachers, kids will have a more difficult time cultivating a strong student voice. Considering there is power in numbers, encourage other teachers and administrators to also support students in efforts to have a say in their education. By working together, school faculty members are able to cultivate an environment in which everyone is invested in a common goal of student growth, regardless of the department in which he or she works, subject taught, or grade level managed. Children who are supported by a faculty that forms a united front will be more successful in building a strong student voice.

When helping pupils identify and cultivate a student voice, keep in mind that the goal isn’t to anger students and promote frustration. The goal of guiding students in this type of growth is to show them that they can engage the adult decision makers to work together for the decisions that will be most beneficial to education.

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