STUDENT VOICE. Our Schools’ Most Underutilized Resource

Schools are designed for students.  Curriculum and programming are selected as tools to impact student learning.  Special events are intended to support students’ growth as learners, peers, and people.  Why is it then, that adults in our school buildings so often take the lead on decision making efforts (that often directly affect our students) without including our…. students in the process?

George Couros calls student voice our schools’ most underutilized resource in this regard.  Teams of well-intentioned adults regularly plan programming, classes, activities, interventions, enrichments, supports, assemblies, and events for our students- often without including these students’ voices in our planning, or better yet – letting them take the lead in planning efforts.   Meghan Lawson considers why this might be, and shares her students’ voices in her post:  The Most Underutilized Resource in Our Schools.   Her students’ voices are so powerful and, to me, provide a direct line into one of the best resources we have when planning for kids – the kids themselves:

“I am more than a number.”

“We deserve more than 23 minutes to eat our lunches.”

“Our desks are uncomfortable, and I’m sitting at a desk ALL day.”

“You preach preparation for the real world, but you give us busy work.”

“I have one hour of homework for your class each night, but I have 7 classes…”

“Why can’t I use the bathroom when needed?”

“I only have one remaining credit for graduation. I would love the opportunity to do some internships. I want help getting out into the real world to learn some stuff.”

“We don’t have to run the same schedule every day or every week.”



Barbara Bray, (in concert with Kathleen McClaskey & Sylvia Duckworth) provides a visual ‘Continuum of Student Voice’, illustrating classroom environments that span from teacher-centered to learner-driven.  As George notes, these learning environments are a key component in helping progress the focus in our classrooms from student choice, to student voice, and ultimately, student empowerment.


Have You Asked The Kids?

I recently attended a community gathering of parents organized by our District Superintendent.  The topic for discussion was “What’s Working Well in Our Schools? What Needs More Focus?”  While I was thrilled for the opportunity to provide my perspective as a mother of school aged students, I left the meeting wishing that students had been a part of the discussion.  After all, is school meant to work well for us parents, or our precious kids?

When was the last time we asked our students:  “What’s Going Well in Our Classroom?”  “What’s Not Working For You?”.   The answers to these questions might reinforce the wonderful things happening in our classrooms, or they might downright scare us.  Or – even better – perhaps asking the questions would open the door to climbing Barbara’s Continuum of Voice in our classrooms.



Promote Student Metacognition:  Ask students to reflect on their understanding often.  What has come easily today? What was more challenging? Ask students to set personal and academic goals for an upcoming term, quarter, year.  Invite students to share these goals with others.

Learning Inventories:  Help your students reflect on what they need to learn best.  Help them identify the environments and learning activities that they find exciting, rich, boring, challenging, overwhelming, etc.  Invite them to share their reflections with their peers.


Poll Student Satisfaction:  Use surveys to poll student satisfaction after events, lessons, or changes in schedule.  Specifically ask what could be done differently to improve their experience in the future.

Exit Interviews: Hold End of Term/Year/Course Exit Interviews to poll students about their experiences.  Use this information to inform and guide future planning.


Student Representatives:  Invite student representatives to sit on the planning committees for special events (assemblies, fund raisers, etc).  Ask a student representative to attend portions of department/grade level meetings or add an S to your PTO by inviting student representatives to participate in regular PTSO meetings.  Welcome these student representatives as voting members of the team, there not to simply consume information, but to contribute to the team’s work.


Student Advisory Committees: Create Grade Level Student Advisory Committees.  Partner with the student advisory committee to draft on schedules, fine tune ideas, and mold plans before enacting them.  Working through a dilemma as a team/department?  Bring it to your student advisory team to unpack together.

Curriculum Direction:  Collaborate with your students to design curriculum plans.  Create space that allows your students’ interests and talents to drive the direction of your next learning segment.


Flexible Seating:  Facilitate opportunities in which students can advocate for their learning needs, including the freedom to design a learning environment most effective for them.

Student Advocates:  Use a student advocate team to help troubleshoot specific dilemmas faced by other students.  This group (with rotating student membership) can investigate peer dilemmas, research potential solutions, then make and support recommendations to the referring student.


Student Leadership Academy:  Support students in the development of student leadership teams that tackle community (the school’s, the town’s or the world’s) dilemmas.  Entirely student run, these groups self-identify the goals and focus of the group, as well as the social dilemmas they tackle.


Thank you for providing students opportunities to participate in their own learning.  Thank you for creating spaces where students are able to practice and develop the skills of activism and leadership that this world desperately needs.

A commitment to fostering student voice in our learning spaces is a commitment to empowering children to become the activists and leaders this world desperately needs.







Bray, B. & McClaskey, K. (2016, January 10). Continuum of voice: What it means for the      learner.  Retrieved from

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.  San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Lawson, M. (2017, October 18).  The most underutilized resource in our schools. Retrieved from


8 thoughts on “STUDENT VOICE. Our Schools’ Most Underutilized Resource

  1. I think it’s very hard for many adults to let kids take the lead in things, because we find it so difficult to let them fail. If you put your child in charge of all the aspects of her big school project, she may very well fail the whole course. It’s important that kids fail, not only at little stuff, but also at some big things.

    It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy: the less often we give them opportunities to lead, the less skilled they are at it, and the less willing we are to give them a chance. The “facebook family life” is very suggestive that kids should be awesome at everything, and makes it that much harder for parents to encourage their child to take endeavors that might fail.

    The best quote I heard at DI (child led project) this year was “That was embarassing.” The 2nd graders goofed off for their 5 minutes of prep, and put on an incoherent presentation to a few 5th graders. Will I let them fail their real project, if it’s heading that way? I know I should, but it will be difficult.


    .ps as PTA treasurer, I gave the student council control of the annual budget for playground supplies. Baby steps 😛

    Lahey, J. (2015). The gift of failure: how to step back and let your child succeed. London: Short Books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your point about social factors working against our mantra of “embrace failure” is such an important one. My biggest thought is that we need to be social media models of GOOD, TRUTH, and HONESTY, as a first step. Thanks for getting me thinking!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this! I have seen students grow so much when given the opportunity to lead- and to fail. One thing that strikes me is that grade level factors in greatly with this concept. Younger students can participate in every level of the continuum, but with more support and in fewer areas. As students reach high school age, more and more independence and responsibility can be given to them, especially if they have had the opportunity to lead in the younger grades. I am involved in a self-directed learning community for teens and it is amazing to see what the students can accomplish when they are given the reins.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was thinking about this whole students-leading thing, plus failing is good from the other side…

    I’ve been pretty stressed about the many lessons I’ll be teaching in the next few weeks. I think I have quite a bit of the mindset that as a student I’m not supposed to lead, and definitely not fail. My lessons should be exactly _something_, and I just need to figure out what that something is. But, I really felt a lot better about designing my own unit when my cooperating teacher said something to the effect of it being fine for some new stuff I’m trying to go sideways – that’s how I’ll learn :).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Student Agency Resources | Educator Voices

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