Cycle: Authorizing Students

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement

Looking at the core of this word, the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement insists that educators provide students with the opportunity to author their own stories. This means being able to speak the truth, create our own myths, and learn the lessons life shares.

Educators often take for granted our ability to do these things however, whenever we want to. Students do not have the same privileges. Instead, students are routinely subjected to educator expectations for their learning, including what they learn, how they learn, where they learn, and when they learn. 
Meaningful Student Involvement requires that we relinquish some of that power by actively finding out from students what they think they should learn, how they should learn, and so forth.

Controlling Authority
Educators also control where and how student voice is listened to. When a young person looks upset, stands up, shouts, and storms out of a meeting, the automatic reaction of educators is often to seek to punish the student for this behavior. However, that does not acknowledge that this behavior may have been a valid response for that particular young person. The thing said or done immediately done before their reaction may have been very threatening or harmful. Authorizing students means giving them the room to say what they will, how they will, where they will – whether or not it is convenient to educators can be completely irrelevant.

How To Tell Your Story
There are many ways educators can authorize students. Here are two.

  • Positioning students to be able to share their ideas, actions, perspectives, knowledge, and abilities. This could be as low-key as creating ground rules that acknowledge the needs of students, such as getting up to stretch their legs when they need to or calling for a “fun break” when they need one. It could be as grandiose as designating half the positions on a nonprofit board of directors as full-voting student members. Both of these authorize students in different ways with the same outcome of fostering Meaningful Student Involvement. 
  • Learning about the things that matter to students is a powerful form of authorization. While it is true that you cannot make anybody learn anything they do not want to, once educators cross the hurdle of interest they have the obligation to enable students to learn uninhibitedly about the topics that matter to them. This can happen through skill training, knowledge-building activities, or by simply providing access to the tools they need to teach themselves, such as a computer connected to the Internet. 
Challenges to Student Authority
Challenges to authorizing students abound. One persistent barrier may be funding: supporting students as they attend meetings can include transportation costs, feeding them lunch or dinner, and staff time to ensure preparedness and follow-through. 
However, a wonderful aspect of the Cycle is that it is not contingent on money; instead, educators can vary their actions according to resource availability. If an organization is not committed enough to identify and obligate funds to support student committee members, educators who want to engage students can adjust their response to a no-cost alternative, such as developing an online blog where students can share their opinions about committee decision-making. 
Other barriers to authorizing students exist, and should be appropriate acknowledged. They can be approached much the same way though, with the knowledge that adjustments at this point will be revisited at other points in the future as the Cycle keeps turning.

Moving On
The process of authorizing students can seem very empowering. Without the next part of the Cycle though, much of the progress made so far can be minimized, or even irrelevant in their lives and in the world around them.

Steps of the Cycle


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

Help Promote Ending Discrimination Against Young People!

You know I’m not the most famous person in the world, right?!?

I don’t have a publicist, and I want people to get a hold of my newest book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People. I need your help!

If you want to pitch in, you can help me by helping get the word out. The biggest help you can do is find one person who needs and wants Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Offer the book to that person, and then if you want to, repeat.


Slower than you want, but faster than you think, we can help stop adultism and end discrimination. Here are some ways to help reach out for my awesome, powerful, strong book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People.

10 Steps to Promote Ending Discrimination Against Young People

1. Contribute to Facebook groups and Web forums—Every field has at least one or two facebook groups and web forums that people who should know about Ending Discrimination Against Young People read. Find and join these forums. Contribute to them freely. Give advice from the book and reach out. Put a link to http://adamfletcher.net in your signature line, or add the name of the book in your signature block.

2. Write a Blog—Writing about the book with helpful, inspirational information from it. Relate your experience and stories to the subjects in Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Aim to inspire people to buy the book, and share the link with them.

3. Write a Remarkable Review—Go to Amazon.com and write a review of the book. You can say things like: “I loved it! This book is amazing!”, and tell your story related to the book. Ending Discrimination Against Young People needs word-of-mouth publicity. Recommend it to your friends. They will recommend it to their friends. This is the best publicity the book can get.

4. Share Stuff from the Media Kit—My online media for the book kit includes

5. Share the Webpage—There’s a full webpage that includes:

  • A link to the Amazon page for your book, so people can buy the book online
  • Your media kit 
  • Book reviews and blurbs
  • My schedule of appearances, including bookstores, speaking engagements and conferences
  • Contact information.
6. Write Articles—Every field has websites and magazines that needs to share Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Find them and tell me about them. You can also write articles about the book for newsletters, websites, magazines, or eZines. Mention Ending Discrimination Against Young People in the article. In online articles, link the book title to its Amazon page so readers can click over and buy the book.


7. Help the Book Get 20 Amazon Reviews—Amazon.com reviews are amazingly effective. Everyone from book buyers to publishers reads them. Our goal is to get at least 20 reviews of Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Contact everyone you know and ask each of them if they would give the book an honest review. Let them know it can be brief. If they agree, let me know and I will send them either a PDF containing a table of contents, two sample chapters, and me bio.

8. Get the Book Mentioned in Email Blasts—Get Ending Discrimination Against Young People mentioned in your org’s large-volume emails. Review the book the email newsletter.

9. Make and Post Online Videos—Make a few 1 or 2 minute video reviewing and promoting Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Put the book title and URL on the bottom of the video screen and in the credits. Post your videos on several of the many video sharing sites including sites like blip.tv, jumpcut, ourmedia, Vimeo, vSocial and YouTube. Share the clips on your website, through your facebook or twitter page, and through emails to your friends and colleagues.
10. Ask for It—Go to your local bookstore and library and ask people to carry the book. Let them know you’re excited about it, share your copy with them, and ask them to carry it themselves. Tell them you’ll personally help others learn about it and send customers and users to them.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU for sharing Ending Discrimination Against Young People with your people. Let me know what I can do for YOU!

Cycle: Validating Students

It is as if students occupy a dichotomy in society where their voices are either completely worshipped or totally dismissed, and worse still, sometimes fully repressed. Mainstream media frequently place student voice on a pedestal, highlighting the “outrageous” things kids say or making the opinions and ideas of students into the flavor of the day in advertisements.

At the same time, mainstream news sources regularly demonize students, labeling students as “super predators” who are apathetic about society, incapable of complex mental functions, and perpetually failing in school and throughout society.

Really Valuing Students
Truly validating what students have shared with educators requires that educators get past their preconceived ideas of what should happen and respond as authentically and genuinely as appropriate, and as possible. 
Validation alone can provide very rich rewards for students who say they do not feel acknowledged by educators. It provides a fertile ground for educators to show students that they see them, they matter, and that student voice affects them.

In a variety of institutions throughout our society educators rarely want to know what students think, feel, act, and understand. When it does happen, well-meaning educators often seem stuck in their assumed role of sage advice-givers and secret knowledge-holders. 

In addition to those behaviors, other educators automatically assume that validating students means just saying yes to them all the time. This type of permissiveness is disingenuous at best, as it can actively disable the ability of students to respond to adversity and challenge, and incapacitate their natural survival mechanisms that promote resilience and adaptation. 
More Than Yes Or No
This means validating is more than just saying, “Yes.” Sometimes it means saying, “No.” Sometimes it means asking inquiring questions. One way to get to the core of any statement is to ask 5 Why’s. 
It could look like this:

“I want to eat a slice of bread.”
“Why?”
“I’m hungry.”
“Why are you hungry?”
“Because I skipped breakfast this morning.”
“Why?”
“I got in a fight with my little sister.”
“Why?”

“I spilled her bowl of cereal on her by accident. She was wearing her new outfit, and I was in a hurry to get food from the kitchen, so I rushed by her in there and bumped her by accident. I was running late for a meeting at school where there’s a boy I really want to talk to…”

…And so forth. The 5 Why’s can provide a useful “drilling” technique in situations where you really want to know what students are thinking. There are other techniques, too. However, blasé or indifferent attitudes defeat student voice. Students frequently intuitively sense when educators do not authentically care about their perspectives. The idiom, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to,” applies here.

Listening to students and validating what they have said is just the start to the Cycle. The next step is authorizing.


Steps of the Cycle


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

Cycle: Listen to Students

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Listening to students is something that anyone who has regular contact with students thinks they do every day. Asking students when the last time was they actually felt heard can reveal some different opinions though. Listening is the first step in the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Separately Students and Adults
This happens for many reasons, not the least of which being that we routinely separate students from each other, and we keep students away from adults in their communities. Classrooms, student programs, and extracurricular activities all demonstrate how this type of separation occurs. 
Keeping different age groups in different areas throughout different times of the day effectively implants and reinforces the inability of adults to empathize with students, and causes students to stay away from one another. In turn, people throughout education and across society can lose the ability to serve as appropriate role models, engaged educators, and purposeful co-creators of the situations and solutions we operate in all of the time. 
Really Listening to Students
The first step to alleviating this painful reality is listening. When educators listen to students they demonstrate their commitment to the children they serve. When students listen to educators they show the power of personal connection by defeating the negative stereotype about their inability to relate to people who are older than them. Listening is not just for one type of students, either: while streams often seek out the path of least resistance when running downhill, educators to students do not have to do the same. This is the matter of seeking “convenient student voice” versus “inconvenient student voice”. Convenient student voice happens when educators seek students who say what we want them to, how, when, and where, and why we want them to.

Unfortunately, this does not usually turn out well students who have been historically disengaged throughout society. These students frequently share inconvenient student voice, whether through actions such as fighting, graffiti, or engaging in other negative behaviors; or through resistance in which they refuse to engage in activities designed to engage them.

Ways to Listen to Students
Challenge this negativity through deliberate activities designed to listen to students:

  • Personal conversations, such as one-on-ones, email exchanges, phone calls, texting, personal counseling sessions, and instant messaging.
  • Small groups, including group meetings, Google groups, student panels, classrooms, and small training sessions.
  • Large groups, like social networking websites, conferences, student forums, and large training events.

Challenges to Listening to Students
It is easy to see how manipulation, tokenism, and alienation can defeat these avenues for listening to students. Some of the other challenges to listening to students include:

  • The belief that “Kids are better seen and not heard.”
  • The presumption that students are already listened to enough.
  • Filtering, in which educators reword what students say to “make it make sense” to other educators
  • The practice of picking on the voices that we want to hear, rather than those we do not.

In order to engage students these challenges have to be addressed. There are several ways to overcome them. However, the most important thing that educators can do is continue on the Cycle. The next step is validating.

Five Steps of the Cycle


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


Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Introduction to the Cycle
Listen, validate, authorize, act, and reflect. These are not radical concepts unfamiliar to seasoned educators. However, while it is true that educators intuitively go through these steps with students every single day, it can be challenging to keep them in focus while going through the daily functions of running a classroom or school.

This cycle is designed to illustrate a clear process everyone can use to engage students. The most important consideration here is to consider student involvement as more than student voice. It requires more than simply hearing, checking-in, or talking to students. Meaningful Student Involvement is deep; going through the cycle gets to the depth.

The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement provides a pathway educators can use to create sustainable connections with students. It can seem very familiar, and that is one of the advantages of using the Cycle for learning, teaching, and leadership.

The five steps acknowledge both the simplicity and complexity of truly substantive relationships between students and the educators who work with them. This tool can serve as both a planning guide and as an evaluation tool that anticipates what lies ahead and looks back on what has past. Following is an examination of the different motions of the Cycle.

Five Steps of the Cycle


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

We Are Limitless

I grew up around alchoholics, gamblers, cheaters, and liars. People who sold their souls and materials to serve their vanity, egos, narcissism, and greed were always around my house, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, sobering up and trying to move on with their lives.

In all my different work with young people, I have been around gangbangers and prostitutes, runaways and robbers, and cheats of all kinds. I’ve also spent time with adults so contemptuous towards children and youth that they’d never be allowed to be parents- and they were youth workers, teachers, and counselors!

But somewhere in the middle of all that hopelessness, all that suffering, and all that pain is a reality that few people involved actively spoke out loud, although everyone actually worked from it. The reality is that all human beings are limitless.

Limitlessness

We’re all racing. Just like the atoms around us, we’re all scurrying about from place to place, person to person, being who we are and doing what we’re doing. Even when life is syrupy and slow, the atoms in us are still yearning for movement, drawing us towards the dishes that need washed, bills that need to be paid, and life that needs to be lived. None of us are ever truly still of body and mind, because all of us are truly made of motion. That motion compels us towards endless movement.

The only respite we ever truly have for the movement of our bodies is death. Between here and there, our waking and sleeping hours are dominated by the impulse to move, and within that movement, change. Nobody is ever truly done.

Because of that impulse, we have a limitless potential for growth, progress, transformation, and generation. Nobody can escape that impulse, and whether its within them or around them, each of us is always changing.

Youth

There’s a temptation to make this limitless into a thing that only youth experience. Folks who say that will also say that adults stop growing, and they often believe that’s true. Its not.

All humans are truly limitless, filled with unknown potential, untapped possibilities, unacknowledged power, and limitlessness of all kinds. Each and every single one of us truly has no bounds! This includes youth, who embody this limitlessness because they actively live it. However, it also includes very small children, who are often forced into boxes by their parents who habitually seek familiarity and predictability, so they try to make their kids just like them.

And then there’s adults, who are all truly limitless no matter what we believe. Those self-beliefs are often what limit our ability to see our limitlessness. However, that doesn’t make those beliefs true. Instead, it makes them another opportunity that we can break free and see who we truly are!

My Work

This is why I do the work I do the ways I do. Within each of us in an indomitable spirit, something that cannot be taken away by anyone else. That’s the freedom we have, inherently and implicitly, simply because we’re humans. Its a place that we could celebrate and elaborate and explore everyday, if each of us saw it.

However, many of us don’t, or haven’t been able to.  Instead, we’ve been held in our cages and tied to our conceptions of ourselves in our worlds. Much of the time, we become alchoholics, gamblers, cheaters, and liars. Seeing no other routes, we become gang bangers and prostitutes, runaways and robbers, and cheats of all kinds. At the end of the day, we’re locked into jails and sleeping in alleyways, hoping for another way out.

Our individual lot doesn’t have to be that conspicuous for us to be limited. We may be divorced, or single parents, or too-hard workers, or hard-hearted lovers. We may deny our youth, reject our grandparents, and forget ourselves. There are so many ways we try to limit ourselves.

That is why I do what I do: To help others break free of the limits we’ve instilled in our lives and times.

Inspiration

Luckily, we have many people to turn to for inspiration. Without knowing it sometimes, we look to Dr. King for inspiration, especially when he wrote things like this: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Other times we call out to heroes from other times, like Joan of Arc, who reportedly said, “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”

Maybe we are moved by modern times and the people who occupy them with us, like President Obama, who famously said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Each of these, and so many other people, can inspire us to see the limitlessness potential of all humans everywhere.

So if you believe that people are who they are, and cannot change from who they are, let me tell you a story sometime, if you want me to. Let me tell you about Larry, a drunk cabby who never quit trying to quit. Let me tell you about Idu, who lived without in order to go within, and who is becoming reacquainted with his own greatness. Maybe I can share Meghan’s story, or Melinda’s. There was that group of kids in that one place… All these stories are real, from my own experience, and show the reality that I’m asking you to see here.

All humans are limitless. Join me in seeing that reality, please.

Summary of Ending Discrimination Against Young People

Adam Fletcher has worked with young people and their adult allies since he was a teenager. Speaking and training thousands of youth and adults in schools and organizations across the United States since then, Fletcher has gained a reputation for provocative, empowering approaches to transforming the roles of young people throughout society. In August 2013, the internationally-recognized expert in youth engagement released ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, a book-length summary of what he says is the most important issue facing all young people everywhere today.

ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE is an unusual social analysis that veers far from the boilerplate by combining meaningful insight with practical steps anyone can take to change the situation. In it, Fletcher recounts several powerful stories of discrimination he has seen along with penetrating practices in families, schools, and even organizations intending to help children and youth today. He also discusses in great detail virtually every major social issue facing young people today, offering his opinion and possible strategies meeting these challenges.

On issues ranging from parenting to commercialization, Fletcher’s stance is one that attempts to find a middle ground between radical youth liberation and what he sees as forced social hierarchy. Fletcher calls for compromise between young people and adults, and new approaches to old assumptions that he contends are undermining well-intended work throughout society. His overarching message is that society is becoming mature enough to re-envision how adults behave towards children and youth, and that its essential to do things differently; however, in order to ensure that opportunities are as effective as they could be for as many people as possible, we have to address negative attitudes and opinions that may be undermining our efforts.

In the introduction to ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, Fletcher shares the basis of his analysis. “Any honest conversation about engaging young people must address discrimination against young people,” Fletcher writes. He goes on to explain some of his personal and professional experiences with this discrimination, also called adultism. Suggesting that, “We must transform society to engage all young people, everywhere, all the time,” Fletcher lays out the premise of the book by summarizing the world facing children and youth today.

In the first chapter, Fletcher describes the why discrimination against young people exists. Opening the chapter, he uses a classroom story leading to a youth who says, “They hate us because we’re young.” From there, he details the foundation of discrimination against young people by suggesting its grows from infanthood into childhood, young adulthood, parenthood, and old age. He then describes the paternalistic roots of discrimination against young people, which according to Fletcher are rooted in the ways adults perceive them. Describing several of these perceptions, he describes how adults see young people alternatively as products to be made, consumers of adult-driven society, tokens for adults’ self-satisfaction, and as adults-in-the-making. He also details how race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and other factors intersect with discrimination against young people.

Fletcher enters into Chapter 2 by demanding we call discrimination against young people what it is, which in a word is adultism. After exploring the essence of that term, he expands the readers’ understanding of the issue by examining different terms and how they relate to the issue. He then explores different age groupings throughout society, and explains how they’re related to understanding adultism. Finally, he recounts the terms by detailing how each of them is apparent through the lives of children and youth today.

In Chapter 3, Fletcher asks what is wrong with discrimination against young people, and proceeds to share many ways. Connecting the phenomenon of adults acting like youth to discrimination, he then expands on many ways adults undermine young people in everyday roles as parents, teachers, youth workers, counselors, and other positions. He shows how adults being over-permissive, well-meaning, over-controlling, indifferent, and hostile towards young people are all similarly disposed to discriminating against young people. Fletcher shows how these practices extend throughout life, and through formal and informal structures, have affected many generations. In order to illustrate systems that affect children and youth, he shows how schools, families, healthcare, the economy, nonprofits, cultural activities, and legal systems all discriminate against young people.

Chapter 4 addresses the causes of discrimination against young people. Both relying on and eschewing theories about human development, Fletcher explores how the differences between young people and adults inherently cause discrimination, as do the differences among children and youth themselves. He then details how obvious discrimination is, especially when young people discriminate against themselves; when adults promote it; when our culture promotes it; and when the structure of society forces it. Fletcher then suggests that not only is does every single adult discriminate against young people, he says it’s not always bad or wrong. He then says the challenge is to stop rationalizing it and start addressing it directly.

Continuing in his expose, Fletcher uses chapter 5 to detail how discrimination happens throughout society. Showing how adults routinely segregate children and youth from adults, Fletcher suggests this silences young people. He says the real risks facing young people aren’t addressed because of this silencing, then shows how different institutions throughout society are framed by discrimination against young people.

Chapter 6 closes the book by suggesting that all children, youth, and adults have a role in ending discrimination against young people. He shows how each person can challenge discrimination by sharing basic techniques. Exploring many of the reasons why discrimination against children and youth must end, he then suggests all actions must begin personally, and then focus on others. He ends the book with calls homes, schools, and nonprofits to the carpet specifically, challenging each with distinct explanations of what they can do.

The end of ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE includes a glossary of more than 25 terms, as well as a list of resources Fletcher recommends for readers to continue their self-study.

My Youth Council Days

In fall of 1992, I was a 17-year-old struggling through high school, living in the hood, and loving the life I lived. It was an exciting time packed with nerve-wracking moments that were smoothed over by a caring family, good mentors, and great friends.

I grew up in a predominantly low income, African American neighborhood in the Midwest. My family scraped along to get by, but with both my parents at home we were the anomaly. Our neighborhood fit a lot of stereotypes piped out by the mainstream media. It was referred to as a “depressed community”, and every night during the summer there seemed to be a drive-by somewhere around my block. I was jumped many times, and the number of times cops showed up and left from Kenny’s crack house down the street is uncountable. Everyone who was young seemed to be in a gang, and everyone who was old seemed scared.

Whenever I had a chance to do an activity that brought me out of that neighborhood, I took it. The year before, I became involved in starting a district youth council for the United Methodist churches. Run by a young minister from the other side of the city, I began driving to churches around the area to be on this youth council. It was an exciting thing for me personally, if only because I got to create and share and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

That year, in 1992, I was given a booklet about starting a neighborhood youth council. Skimming through it, I decided my neighborhood needed one. I went to the church’s minister and asked him if we could pull it together and he agreed.

In a few weeks, I had twenty adults and youth in the same room. We were there under the premise that programs that served youth in our neighborhood could do even better by working together. For an hour we talked about what we did, listening to someone running a basketball team, a youth employment program focused on cooking, the food bank coordinator, an afterschool program worker, a VISTA serving in the neighborhood, and a few other people.

The youth in the room were friends of mine, and we all talked. One guy shared ideas, another reflected on how things were going in his life.

After everyone finished talking, we talked about when people worked and which individual children and youth they worked with. After an hour zoomed by, we left and everyone filed out.

For eight more meetings after that, we talked about what folks were doing and where they were doing it. There were conversations about getting more money for programs, more resources for kids and their families, and conversations about the things that were happening throughout our neighborhood. Some people were aware of the gossip while others focused on the newspapers. But everyone brought something to the table. I was proud to be able to lead the conversations.

By the end of that school year, I turned 18 and graduated from high school. The neighborhood youth council was over, and in the two more years I lived in the hood, it never met again.

From that experience, I learned the basics of collaboration. I studied the movements and ideals of the individuals at the table, and heard the stories and realities of the young people in our programs and lives. I learned to see the kids that came and went through all these programs as individuals with their own individual wants, needs, and dreams. Mostly, I learned to see my neighbors.

Since 1992, I’ve been involved with dozens of youth councils nationwide, and I’ve staffed two others at the state and national levels. Early in January 2014, I’m going to launch a new regional youth council for the Pacific Mountain region in Washington State. Its going to be exciting, for sure. But I’ll definitely draw on my own experience in order to best navigate the waters we’ll wade into.

What was your first experience with a youth council?