How to Get Past LISTENING To Students

Schools must get past listening to students. Its a starting point, but as I’ve taught with my Cycle of Engagement for almost a decade, its just a start. As ethically responsible educators and advocates, we have a responsibility for getting past listening and towards action. Find out how in this post. 

Do you want to transform schools with students? Awesome! Listening to them is a starting point, but its only the beginning. Following are five steps to student engagement in school improvement.

The Cycle of Engagement can be a powerful tool for classrooms, school boardrooms, and throughout the entire education system!

Step 1: Listen to Students. Teachers, families, counselors, and other adults have a direct stake in the health and well-being of students in schools. However, the most important partner is often the least connected: students themselves. Connecting students as partners and hearing their voices, at par with other partners, is essential. Adults must hear students’ experiences throughout schools; their ideas about improving schools; their wisdom about creating effective schools; and their beliefs about learning, teaching, and leadership throughout the education system. Not only are they are essential to effectively engaging students, but also every other partner in school improvement. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote that educators must learn to “speak by listening;” school reform opens the door for adults to demonstrate to students that they are our priorities.

Step 2: Validate Students. The historical structures of schools require people in positions of authority to give permission to students, parents, and others who wish to help improve schools. This does not always mean saying “yes;” instead, it is important to sometimes say “no” or “maybe,” and always to ask more questions. Inquiry is acknowledgment, and it builds relationships and allows teachers, principals, and others to connect with partners across the board.

Step 3: Authorize Students. Sometimes the straightest path to creating lasting, effective school improvement is the one that looks wiggly. To authorize is to give students permission to tell their own stories, and partners want that permission. They need the knowledge and the positions that will allow them to effectively change schools.


Step 4: Take Action with Students. Students aren’t the only ones who needs to see action in school reform. With demanding modern schedules, families and community members want to hear more than just words—they want to do something. However, one of the points of the Cycle of Engagement is that action does not happen in a vacuum; instead, it has to have context. The other parts of the Cycle provide that framing.


Step 5: Reflect with Students. Reflection allows all partners to look back on what they have done, make meaning from it, and apply what they have learned to the next rotation of the cycle. An easy framework for reflection is:

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what: What happened?
  • So what was the point of that?
  • Now what do we do with what we have learned?
Keep in mind that these different parts are a cycle though, so as they come around to completion, we use our reflections on learning to re-inform the process of listening to students and other partners.

Discover powerful roles for students and ways to move from listening to student voice towards Meaningful Student Involvement at SoundOut.org!

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