For centuries, school was something that was done to students. Adults decided whether youth needed to go, what youth needed to learn, how youth should learn, and who was accountable for youth learning. The system of public education developed in Western countries was designed for students, without concern for what they wanted for themselves. Today, the system is slowly shifting and moving beyond these expectations. Youth engagement in school reform are inherently and completely wrapped up together, and the education system should recognize that. School reform is any systematic attempt to improve education.
Ways Youth Engagement in School Improvement Happens
Youth on School Boards — In full-voting, equally represented positions, students on school boards can transform learning, teaching and leadership in schools. Learning about education, studying issues, taking positions, advocating for interests, voting on policies, and evaluating the effects of schooling can allow student school board members to be highly effective, engaged and transformative leaders in the education system.
Participatory Action Research — By taking informed, empowered action to transform their schools, students can become fully engaged in school improvement. PAR moves learners from being passive recipients of teaching to active partners in school transformation.
Student-Led Teacher Evaluation — Identifying what matters to them and examining their teachers’ performance in light of those priorities can create cultures of mutual respect and communication throughout schools.
Youth-Led School Reform — When adults won’t make room for students to participate in school reform activities, or when students are prepared to organize themselves and adults won’t support them, action should not stop. Youth-led school reform can work inside schools to change schools, or agitate outside schools to change schools, or some combination of both.
Things Needed for Youth Engagement in School Improvement
Education — Teaching students what the education system is, what it does and what it can do is an essential part of engaging youth in school reform. Awareness of the cultures and purposes of the education system can also help foster community and belonging throughout schools.
Training — Professional classroom educators and school leaders routinely go through four to ten years of higher education; throwing students into a room and expecting them to participate as equals is inappropriate and ineffective, to say the least. Students need training on education structures, functions and mechanisms in order to become equitable partners. Training and other learning opportunities can provide this.
Opportunities — Students in school and young people who’ve left school have A LOT of feelings, ideas, wisdom and knowledge about education. Nonprofits, government agencies and schools themselves can create opportunities to engage those youth in school reform. Moving beyond simply listening to student voice, adults can engage students as partners who take action and move from being passive to active throughout education!
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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in the Arts in your community or organization, contact us.