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Clement Coulston Headshot

Student Voice: Situational? Optional? Or Essential?

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At the beginning of our existence, we grew quickly through the stages of maturity until we became the people we are today. During early development we acquire understanding of the freedoms, choices, and rules that structure how our society functions, through hands-on exploration, curiosity and questioning, and a desire to model behaviors of those around us. However, to the child, equity is determined on a peer-to-peer basis on who is given "extra playtime" or another refill of juice. Children conceptualize the world in terms of "what I have" verses "what you have" and distinguish those differences that comprise these inequities. Through time, we may begin to learn and struggle with how equity is applicable to other aspects of life. One of these inequities is the lack of awareness, value and need for the Student Voice.

One may be thinking, "What do you mean by 'the Student Voice?'" Students are, after all, attending schools, participating in sports, and choosing to undertake extra-curricular activities outside the classroom. Students may have long breaks from school (in contrast to the typical 9-5 work week) or even have snow days! The lives of students seem to be that of freedom; but I challenge one to deepen his or her understanding of the designated role students have today.

In the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution, the need for workers with relative equal set skills entailed schooling to provide standardized training to be successful in this field of work. Long rows of seats facing the front of the room, chalk to write directions on the board, and a bell to signal the dismissal for the end of the day were symbols typically connected with this time. Students were expected to listen and learn, as empty jars that needed to be filled. While each of us has the capacity for lifelong learning, we must recognize that despite a number that describes our age, we all have unique experiences, creativity and insights to share.

Students sadly are still expected and even considered incapable of being creative or valuable in the Education Policy and Reform efforts so commonly taking place today. Students are going to school, living by the deliberations and consequences that have been made by people who may not fully understand what it means to be a student in the 21st century. Students see this inequity in perspective and aspire to be engaged in these education discussions, implementations and assessments rather than be passive in the communities' efforts.

Student Voice is uniting students who feel stifled and suppressed, but yet at the same time are yearning to express their voice and be perceived as assets. Students are networking through participating in Twitter Meetings, authoring blog posts and connecting with like-minded individuals who have a passion for creating change. While teachers form their Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), students too are creating their own Student Learning Networks (SLNs) to support, encourage and celebrate youth leadership. We are not just talkers, but we are activators who seek out ways to incite meaningful change in our communities and conduct educational awareness on challenges facing students and teachers today.

Students are talking, but is anyone listening? Many express they want change and say they are supporting students, but do we value only what correlates with our ideas? I encourage us to remove the 'headphones of our self-fulfilling prophecy' and truly invest in students' contributions, proposals and leadership. If we commit for change, I challenge all to re-examine our perceptions of how students are the leaders of change for today and tomorrow.

Join the conversation coming from Student Voice Live! presented by Dell in NYC on 4/13 via livestream. Follow #StuVoice and @Stu_Voice on Twitter for more.