Adam Fletcher in Pittsburgh

Join CommonAction’s Adam Fletcher next month as he makes an appearance in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! The Allegheny County United Way is bringing Adam in to speak at the bi-annual APOST Conference. Adam will be on the scene throughout the day, presenting a keynote and a workshop for participants.

Presented in the first part of the APOST Conference, Adam’s keynote will be called Engage ALL Youth, Everywhere, ALL the Time! In his description, he says, “For a long time, the most engaged youth seemed predictable: They were successful, they were connected, and they made adults happy. Today, the picture is a lot different.” 

Adam goes on to share that his talk will focus audience members on the ways youth engagement is expanding, and how important it is to recognize where youth are engaged right now. Using stories, humor, and examples from his 20 plus years experience and research, Adam says the audience will be engaged themselves, learning practical, meaningful, and powerful ways to engage all youth, everywhere, all the time!

In the second part of the APOST Conference, Adam’s workshop is 5 Steps to Youth Engagement
Program. Adam explains, “Evaluators say it is a science and seasoned youth workers say it is an art. No matter which perspective you have, everyone admits it is a little of both.” He will use this workshop to look at some the key questions in youth engagement: What is youth engagement, What gets youth engaged, and What gets organizations real outcomes? 

Adam’s 5 Steps to Youth Engagement explore some of the gray areas of youth engagement like how to engage youth without spending money, the difference between youth participation and youth engagement, and how to engage someone repeatedly without burn out. He also addresses how to stop youth disengagement, how to understand the rules of youth engagement, and how to engage adults in engaging young people. You will leave with practical action you can use right away.
Learn more about the APOST Conference and join Adam this year by visiting the APOST Conference website today!

Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

How to Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

1) Share Youth Engagement.

  • Talk with your supervisor, Executive Director, board members, and other decision-makers.
  • Build support by talking to staff members about youth engagement.
  • Train young people about youth engagement, why it matters, and how they can experience it more.
  • Research resources that might help different people in different roles throughout your organization understand youth engagement more. 
  • Pass along useful websites, materials, and other info with people who care or need to know.

2) Advocate Action.

  • Explore policy-making in your organization, and advocate for changes that reflect a commitment to sustained youth engagement through programs and throughout the organization.
  • Create an action plan that focuses on sustained programs and projects.
  • Be a constant and strong champion for youth engagement throughout your program or organization.
3) Facilitate Approaches.
  • Remember Gandhi’s idiom, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want youth engagement in your program or organization, start engaging youth personally right now. 
  • Start leading activities and programs that foster youth engagement right now. Build youth engagement on the personal level for young people, then solidify it throughout your organization.
  • Strengthen your knowledge about youth engagement and then facilitate opportunities for others to learn about it.
4) Critique and Examine Outcomes.
  • Create safe space to engage diverse youth and adults in critical thinking and cultural examinations. 
  • Actively engage young people and adults in frank, open conversations about the activity, program, or organization.
  • Ask questions that inquire further into peoples’ assumptions or beliefs, and foster new understanding through having everyone share their experiences and opinions as applicable.
  • Ask hard questions about beliefs, understanding, and outcomes.
  • Examine new opportunities to talk change.
5) DO IT AGAIN!

When you travel through each of these steps, you’ll find a variety of awards for your hard work, including youth retention, re-engagement, and much more. 

Where These Came From

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of traditional, mainline youth-serving organizations. They offer services to young people living in adverse situations, including homelessness, family disruptions, addiction, and other circumstances. The activities generally fall into the realms of intervention, education, and employment.

Working with them to establish new approaches to their work, I have been slowly introduce my conceptual frameworks focused on youth engagement, especially how I wrote about the subject in my publication, A Short Introduction to Youth EngagementWhen I wrote the Short Intro…, I intentionally didn’t cover many important aspects of moving forward with the concept. Here’s one area that wasn’t addressed.

These are steps that I’ve followed for more than a decade as I’ve taught, trained, advocated for, and lived through many, many youth engagement programs and projects. They’re also what I’m using right now to help others promote this vital concept, too.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you would add, take out, or challenge in the comments section below.

More Resources




Adult-Driven Youth Voice

Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, all the time, about anything. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever young people are. The question generally is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

If a young person is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing youth voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities. However, young people who cut themselves are sharing youth voice, just like youth graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing youth voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven youth voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Youth Voice
Adult-Driven Youth Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make youth voice become convenient for adults. Adult-Driven Youth Voice is Convenient Youth Voice. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven youth voice.

  • WHO: Youth who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All young people are members of all the communities they occupy, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven youth voice selects specific young people who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share youth voice. 
  • WHAT: Young people say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what young people have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for youth. Young people are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when children or youth want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Youth voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for youth to share their opinions about something, youth voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit youth voice about specific issues. Young people have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for young people. If young people move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with youth voice.

Special thanks to my spectacular friend and longtime comrade Heather Manchester. Her critical thinking and willingness to kick my butt inspired this post (and many others!) and I stand indebted to her genius, patience, and energy she shares with me.

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities

Creating a safe and supportive learning environment is vital to engaging student voice.

A great way to do that is through reflection. Reflection is a process of looking back on an experience and deciphering the meaning of it. This post shares some activities to foster that process.

7 Student Voice Reflection Activities
There are several activities facilitators can use to foster reflection on student voice:

  1. Emotional Go-Around. Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
  2. Learning Skits. Split the students into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their learning experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
  3. Visualization. Take your students on an imaginary tour of their learning experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their learning experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their learning experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
  4. Group Banners. Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask students to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience. 
  5. All Tied Up. Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their learning experience the outcome would’ve been different, etc. 
  6. Learning Journals. Ask students to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity Journal include team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
  7. Time Capsule. As students are being introduced to your conference, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to Peace Jam and their school’s projects on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your conference, or anything else relevant to what’s going on. Have the students write down how they are feeling at the start of the weekend, how they feel at different points of their school’s projects (e.g. what they expected at the beginning of the year, how they felt about your topic or conference before this weekend, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole. Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the your conference.
How I Use Them
I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and meaningful student involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection. 

Recently, I facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process. At the beginning of the process, a group of “nontraditional student leaders” showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. So, I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.

Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school’s faculty focused on meaningful student involvement in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators’ minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:

  • What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
  • What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students’ experiences today?
  • Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?

During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again – although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.

Needless to say, after that the group went exactly where I wanted them to, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students’ projections of what their school could become.

Points to Remember
There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice. Here are a few:

  • Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the videogames they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences. 
  • Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory. 
  • Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting. 
  • Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…”
  • Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
  • Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
  • Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.
Each of these points can help make your student voice reflection activities richer and more meaningful. The wealth that emerges can then be used to move students further towards becoming partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools – and if that’s not the point, what is?!?
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Cycle: Reflection on Meaningful Involvement

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Engaging students in roles normally reserved for educators, new opportunities for learning, analysis, and critical thinking emerge. Talking with students about the action they take is an important way to support their ability to make sense of what happens to them. Putting language to experiences is a process we fine-tune over our lifetime, and through reflection we help students develop the skills they need to be successful educators.

How To Reflect
Reflection is an intentional process, and following are some important tips for reflection with students:

  • Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the videogames they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences. 
  • Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory. 
  • Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting. 
  • Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…” 
  • Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
  • Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
  • Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.
No Vacuums
Meaningful student involvement cannot happen in a vacuum. Educators and students should take responsibility for learning through Student Voice by engaging students in conscious critical reflection by examining what was successful and what failed. 
Students and adults can also work together to identify how to sustain and expand the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement by effectively returning to the first step.

Steps of the Cycle


Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut for a brief summary of the entire Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

34 Ways to Meaningfully Involve Students

Testing, curriculum, teaching styles, school evaluations… As the banner of student voice is unfurled around the world, we see more young people standing up in unprecedented numbers than ever before. They’re demanding what is rightfully theirs: Meaningful learning, deep school-community connections, and lifelong success on their terms. We’re just see a movement emerge like never before, and must keep pushing for it to grow.

Voice or Involvement?

In the context of schools, student voice is any expression of any student, anywhere, about anything related to education. For a long time, people got that wrong by defining it only as things adults wanted to hear from young people. This still happens, over and over.

Students are routinely wrangled into adult-driven, adult-centered education activities and were only asked about things that adults are concerned with. We heard student opinions about topics like teacher accountability, student leadership, student activities, and student services in the name of student voice for a long time.

However, a lot of my writing, research, and training has focused on listening to student voice that didn’t fit that description. It doesn’t fit because it’s sustained, authentic, learning-connected, and much more. By this definition alone, it is not student voice.

Instead, it is Meaningful Student Involvement. I have found the most vibrant action is happening outside that old spectrum of student voice. Re-examining student voice, expanding it, and showing how we’re seeing breadth and depth happening specifically from student/adult partnerships, Meaningful Student Involvement is a wide-open avenue for school transformation that benefits all students and thoroughly moves learning, teaching, and leadership.

All this shows how students need new roles throughout the education system. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven education systems, Meaningful Student Involvement needs to be infused throughout our schools. This can happen in a lot of ways, and here are a few.

34 Ways to Meaningfully Involve Students

  1. Connect student voice with learning. Make sure that all student voice activities have genuine objectives that are tied to classroom learning. Guide activities as experiential learning, and ensure students learn about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and what they learn from it.
  2. Go to where students are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at. This means engaging students as partners in hallways, courtyards, through social media, and other places students are already talking about changing schools.
  3. Teach students about education in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
  4. Help students understand different ways of seeing education issues.
  5. Train adults in schools about the difference between Students as Recipients and Students as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
  6. Help students understand democracy and education, including what they is, how they are interdependent on each other, who is involved, where they fail and when they succeed.
  7. Develop opportunities for students to share their unfettered concerns about their education with adults.
  8. Create formal positions for students to occupy throughout their schools and the entirety of the education system.
  9. Create classes with students as full partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
  10. Co-design realistic, practical school engagement plans with every student in your school.
  11. Assign all students a student mutual mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your school.
  12. Help students plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for schools. 
  13. Engage students in designing and redesigning classes that serve them and their peers.
  14. Encourage nontraditional student leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
  15. Allow students to become active, full partners in school budgeting.
  16. Give students positions to become regular classroom assistants and facilitators. 
  17. Partner together students to form facilitation teams that lead classes.
  18. Acknowledge students teaching younger students in lower age groups with credit and other acknowledgment.
  19. Co-create professional development with students for adults about issues that matter to them.
  20. Assign students to create meaningful classroom evaluations of themselves.
  21. Partner with students to create evaluations of classes, curriculum, facilitation styles, school climate, and educational leadership.
  22. Train students how to evaluate educators. 
  23. Create opportunities for students to lead school committees, meetings, and more.
  24. Create positions for students to participate in district boards, school committees, and other education system-wide activities.
  25. Give students on district boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
  26. Create enough positions for students to be equally represented in every school committee and meeting.
  27. Facilitate all education activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including students.
  28. Help students create and enforce policies throughout the school.
  29. Partner with students in school personnel decisions.
  30. Work with students to organize public campaigns for school improvement.
  31. Create opportunities for students to join all existing school committees as equal members.
  32. Present school data and information so students understand why and how education can and should change.
  33. Position students to educate adults throughout the school community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them. 
  34. Encourage students with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns.

Research-Driven Action


The most effective practices are those that move beyond student voice and become Meaningful Student Involvement. No longer satisfied with tokenizing students, the roles of students are transforming roles throughout education. Schools are engaging students as partners in school change, implementing what I’ve coined as Meaningful Student Involvement over the last decade. In this capacity, students are becoming researchers, teachers, evaluators, researchers, decision-makers, and advocates throughout the education system.

The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free here on my blog and on the SoundOut website, free.

Check those out, and see my website for info about me!

Cycle: Taking Action

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Moving from rhetoric to reality, taking action is a substantive way to demonstrate the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

When Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” he was not speaking in a passive sense. Instead, he was calling anyone who is committed to making the world a better place to take direct action immediately. 
The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement embodies that idea by creating an active process that educators can use with students, or that student leaders can use with each other.

Moving Forward Meaningfully
Strengthened by the validation from educators they trust and empowered by the authorization of learning and positioning, students can move forward to take action and make change happen. As change agents, students can affect many different outcomes.

  • People. Students can affect their friends, their families, their larger communities, and people around the world. 
  • Processes. They can transform the processes they are part of, including Systems of Care, education, social services, and juvenile justice. 
  • Places. Students can have positive impact on the places they occupy, such as their homes, schools, places of worship, and government agencies.

This action can happen through methods such as service learning, which connects meaningful school improvement activities to meaningful learning, and place-based education, where students apply powerful lessons about the places they live to real-world scenarios going around them at present. 

Participatory action research, or PAR, puts students in the position to move from being the objects of research to being the researchers. In PAR, students identify the background learning they need to know about a topic; conduct activities to help refine their topic; develop research and evaluation; assess their findings; identifying solutions to the challenges they have identified; and conduct projects to overcome those challenges.

Forms of Meaningful Involvement
Action can take many different forms, including engaging students in leadership and governance in formal school improvement activities, as well as learning, teaching, and leadership activities throughout schools and the entirety of the educational system. 

Ultimately, when educators promote Meaningful Student Involvement through action, they must be prepared to support students experiencing increasing and appropriate amounts of self-determination throughout their communities. 
Action must focus on real world issues such as organizational funding, program design, or issues outside of Systems of Care such as overcoming the stigmatization of those receiving mental health care services. Effective, culturally relevant organizational structures that support this action will have rich environments for students and school improvement.

After Change
When asked what makes them feel engaged, students often report that they want action. Educators often say that Meaningful Student Involvement happens when they listen to students. Working around the Cycle can lead everyone involved to success, demonstrating the effectiveness of following this pathway. 

The part of the process that supports the connection between action and listening is reflection.

Steps of the Cycle


Read on to learn more, or visit SoundOut for a brief summary of the entire Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.