Students have a unique perspective on how high-level decisions impact the day-to-day life of the school, and their voices are critical to quality schoolwide SEL implementation. By listening to students, schools can make informed decisions about the changes that will best support all learners.
Just as importantly, when students are engaged authentically as leaders, problem-solvers, and decision-makers, they feel ownership over SEL. This is a step toward ensuring that all students experience a sense of agency—the ability to make choices and take actions that impact one’s own trajectory and influence the wider world. When students have a sense of agency, they believe that their own active participation matters.
Schools can ensure they hear from all students, not just those who regularly speak up, by providing a variety of thoughtful opportunities to lead and contribute both in and outside the classroom. This includes actively engaging students who don’t typically take on leadership roles.
A major goal of elevating student voice is to support young people in becoming agents of change. To do this, it is important to consider the existing power dynamics between adults and young people. The figure below provides a way for adults to think about how they engage students. While it is likely not realistic for young people to engage and initiate all action, teachers and administrators can be intentional and purposeful about moving up the ladder in their engagement with young people.
Adapted from the work of Roger A. Hart. Learn more about the Ladder of Participation here.
By creating space for all students to provide their perspectives, share in decision-making, and lead and initiate action, schools can support the development of:
Washoe County School District’s Student Voice Strategies
Washoe County School District involves students in informing and making important decisions, including budget proposals. They hold a Strength in Voices Symposium that brings together elementary, middle, and high school students to discuss priorities and challenges within the district. For example, students analyze results from climate surveys and make recommendations for change. Sessions are led by students, while adults capture the input.
Rather than “defaulting to students perceived to fit certain criteria,” Washoe works to ensure a representative sample of students by providing each school with 15 randomly-selected students, from which eight are selected to participate, according to Michelle Hammond, Student Voice Coordinator. “All kids have a voice and they deserve to express it” (CASEL, 2018). To learn more about Washoe’s work visit their Student Voice homepage.
Below are examples of ways that staff can honor and elevate a broad range of student perspectives and experiences as part of schoolwide SEL efforts: