Bridging Education: Including Students' Voices at the Forefront of School Decision-Making

Bridging Education: Including Students' Voices at the Forefront of School Decision-Making

Four ways to have students' voices present everywhere school decisions are made.

In the first preparation meeting for the Beyond the Vote event, my fellow youth planning committee and I were told that the entirety of our event was up to us to create. This was both exciting and daunting, as none of us had experienced organizing an event such as this one before.  I was excited about the opportunity to shape the event and create something that truly reflected the needs and desires of students state-wide. We met once a week for 3 months. During this time, we brainstormed, navigated through various obstacles, such as coordinating with the conflicting schedules of our guest speakers, and ultimately ended up creating an event that was informative and engaging. Through this experience, I learned the importance of including students' voices in decision-making processes. Our event was successful because we actively valued the input of students by listening to one another's feedback and incorporating ideas into our planning process. 


Coming out of the event, I learned that including students' voices in school decisions, entails actively including students in decision-making processes that affect their education and school environment. It entails valuing and seeking out the input, feedback, and perspectives of students on a wide range of topics, including: curriculum, policies, rules, school culture, and so on. As a result, it encourages student agency, participation, and ownership of their education, which can result in improved educational achievements, increased student satisfaction, and a positive school climate.


In practice, having students' voices present everywhere school decisions are made could look like this:


  1. Student representation in school leadership: Schools can include students in decision-making groups such as student councils, boards of education, or committees responsible for developing and implementing school policy. Students have an important role in influencing decisions that affect their learning environment.
  2. Schools could support and encourage student-led initiatives such as clubs, groups, or projects that allow students to pursue their interests, ideas, and solutions to school-related challenges. This could motivate them to take charge of their education and participate in school decisions.
  3. Open forums and town halls: Schools could hold public discussions and town halls where students could express their opinions, concerns, and suggestions on a variety of school-related issues. While making decisions, school administrators and educators could actively listen to students and consider their perspectives.
  4. Inclusive policies and practices are crucial in fostering an environment where students from diverse backgrounds, identities, and abilities feel heard and valued. This involves creating safe spaces for marginalized students to share their unique experiences and perspectives, as well as ensuring that decision-making processes are designed to be inclusive and accessible to all students. While discussing how age has factored into       his role in political and policy-making spaces, Gabriel Lewenstein emphasizes this point by advocating for clear communication and accessibility in decision-making, stating, "Spelling it out and saying, 'Here's what it is,' and making sure that the way you speak and the way that you operate is the way that's accessible to as many people and invites people into the process." Lewenstein's insight emphasizes the importance of transparent and inclusive communication in ensuring that all students are invited to actively participate in the decision-making process.


For example, if a school is considering changes to its dress code policy, students could be involved in the decision-making process by organizing focus groups to gather their feedback on the current policy and their suggestions for changes. The feedback could then be used to draft a revised dress code policy that reflects the students' perspectives. The draft policy could be shared with students through open forums or town halls, where students can provide further input and suggestions. The final dress code policy could then be approved with the inclusion of students' voices, resulting in a policy that is more inclusive and reflective of students' needs and preferences.


A screenshot of the Civic Learning Week Youth-Led Webinar

Overall, having students' voices present everywhere school decisions are made means creating meaningful opportunities for students to contribute their perspectives and actively participate in shaping their own education and school environment. It promotes a sense of ownership, empowerment, and inclusivity, which can lead to a more positive and engaging educational experience for students.

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