Magazine Feature

Toolkit for I Start the Year With Nothing

When invested and empowered, students can be equal partners in creating a productive and meaningful learning environment. This toolkit provides an inventory to allow you to reflect on how student voices and input are integrated into your classroom and school community.

Given the opportunity, students can be equal partners in creating a productive and meaningful learning environment. This classroom and school inventory provides the tools necessary to assess how student voice and input are integrated into the culture and community and includes suggestions for how to improve student empowerment and investment. 


Essential Question

How does involving student voice, input and agency in the classroom change the learning process for students and teachers?


In the classroom

  • Are students involved in decorating the classroom?
  • Do you have a process for establishing joint expectations about classroom norms and values? 
  • Are students allowed to express their expectations of the teacher?
  • Is there a process for shared decision-making about consequences when agreed-upon classroom expectations or guidelines are broken?
  • Do students lead some of the lessons in your classroom?
  • Do you solicit student feedback on your lessons?
  • Do you assign student roles and responsibilities in the classroom?
  • Do you hold classroom meetings to discuss concerns, news, events and changes?


In our school community:

  • Are students involved in decorating the hallways or other common spaces?
  • Are there opportunities for students to lead schoolwide meetings or assemblies?
  • How are students involved in setting the general guidelines for conduct at the school?
  • Do student representatives sit on any adult-led school committees?
  • If there is a student government association, how does that group collect concerns, ideas or feedback from their peers?
  • If there is a student government association, how do those elected leaders share the concerns of their peers with school leadership? 


For more information and ideas about incorporating student voices into the classroom and wider school community, check out these two resources:

  • The SoundOut website describes the group as “an expert assistance program focused on promoting Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.” The site has toolkits for students, teachers and advocates to help promote students’ voices in every aspect of education—from student-developed lessons, to student-run research and evaluation projects to student-led decision-making process in schools. 
  • Giving Students a Voice in the Classroom,” an article by Evelyn Schneider in the ASCD’s publication, Educational Leadership, gives many practical suggestions and examples of ways to increase student participation and agency in the classroom and school. Strategies include incorporating classroom meetings into the school day, empowering students to facilitate inclusive classroom discussions, creating a culture of giving and receiving help from peers and eliciting students’ input on classroom lessons.
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