Students: Our Most Important Stakeholders

So much of what happens to students is beyond their control; students are told what to do, where to go, and even what to eat with little to no input from them. This is a common experience for far too many students; an experience that perpetuates passivity and the idea that youth are receivers of knowledge rather than co-creators.

As adults we must commit to the idea that soliciting feedback on students’ likes, responses, needs, is not the same as putting youth at the center of how your organization makes decisions. What would it take to create environments in which youth feel able to meaningfully exercise their voice, adult partners able to genuinely listen, and organizations able to improve and make decisions with their key stakeholders at the center?

Youth as Objects or Resources:

Youth as Objects, Recipients, and Resources diagram

At SSN last year, students led the work in piloting new data measurement tools that are harder to “blow off”. They have drafted and tested new team-building exercises between students and staff they felt helped the staff trust students, they designed ‘thought boxes’ to gather anonymous, ongoing feedback so that they could be inclusive of students who don’t feel safe expressing themselves under the constraints that we impose when collecting feedback.

Youth Voice blog post image 2
Youth Voice blog post image 3

Each project and each student has taught us so much about the value of stepping up by stepping back, and letting our most important stakeholders take the wheel in creating the educational experiences they want and need.

When we view youth as resources instead of recipients, you and your organization decide to go on a learning journey with your students. This process allows you to view youth as assets and tap into the unique energy and insights they provide.

“What would it take to create environments in which youth feel able to meaningfully exercise their voices?”

When thinking about how to increase youth leadership in our organizations and schools, it’s important to first be clear about why you want to elevate youth voice. Admit that there are things we don’t know as adults, and be genuinely interested in their opinions.

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Sooah Rho
sooah@ssn-nyc.org

Sooah is passionate about the power of young people to change their communities. She focuses on identifying ways SSN can continue to grow and cultivate an inclusive network that elevates the most important voices in education: practitioner and youth. Prior to joining SSN, Sooah was a high school English teacher in Oakland, CA where she was awarded Teacher of the Year by Oakland Unified Charter Schools 2016.

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