5 Resources for Youth Voice and Choice

High school is a time of self-discovery. As your students explore who they are and what…

By Anna Sudderth

High school is a time of self-discovery. As your students explore who they are and what issues matter to them, you can empower them as leaders and thinkers by giving them a say in what and how they learn. That’s the idea behind Youth Voice and Choice, one of XQ’s core design principles. This week’s resources focus on how you can give students power in their own learning, and partner with students to design the best school experience possible. Ready? Give me five!

Student voice and choice can’t just be superficial. 

Why It Matters: When Elizabethton High School, an XQ school Elizabethton, TN, received $5.7 million dollars in American Rescue Plan funding, the staff saw an opportunity to activate student voice. School leaders involved students in budgeting, prioritizing, and consensus-building to decide how the funds should be spent. This process empowered students, and ensured the funds were spent the way students needed. To get student input on issues that matter:

  • Use focus groups to get student feedback
  • Provide opportunities for leadership within the school, like student council
  • Help students get involved with their school board

Extra Credit: Opportunities for Student Decision-Making in High School

Rethink traditional classroom roles to let students take the lead. 

Why It Matters: The Instructional Core, an approach to education developed by Richard Elmore, demonstrates how the relationships between teachers, students, and content shape learning outcomes. When students take a larger role in their own learning, achievement improves. Increase student involvement with these steps: 

  • Develop a shared language of success with students
  • Give students the freedom to fail
  • Provide multiple opportunities for students to practice goal setting

Extra Credit: Schools creating new structures to encourage student voice

Equity means that every student gets what they need—and no one knows what students need better than students themselves. 

Why It Matters: By involving student voice in reforms, schools can center the experiences of historically marginalized youth in making change. This Equity Toolkit from the Great Lakes Equity Center provides prompts to encourage student voice and improve equity. Use the resource to explore whether students at your school have opportunities to: 

  • Make their voices heard
  • Collaborate with adults
  • Build capacity for leadership

Extra Credit: Equity in the High School Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide

Boost engagement by giving students a say in how and what they learn. 

Why It Matters: For Jemar, a student at Iowa BIG, an XQ school in Cedar Rapids, IA, having choice in his learning made the difference between barely making it through school and thriving. At Iowa BIG, Jemar’s teachers empowered him to incorporate his passions for architecture and interior design into his academic projects—including designing the floor plan for a new space in the school! To create opportunities for student choice, you can: 

  • Connect curriculum to student interests
  • Involve students in designing assignments
  • Collaborate with students to build assessments

Extra Credit: What Is Student Centered Learning and Why Is It Important?

Help students get creative to express their voice and represent their ideas in the world.

Why It Matters: Art gives students the freedom to explore and express their passions and identities. For example, in the Art Education program at Mural Arts Philadelphia, art projects like community murals support student voice and engage students as community leaders. Use art to encourage student voice through projects like: 

Extra Credit: What Rhode Islanders Saw in the New Billboards by Teens

Are your students ready to raise their voice in support of the issues that matter most to them and their generation?

Invite your high schoolers to become a part of America’s largest high school art project with artist JR’s renowned Inside Out Project AND support a cause that’s close to their hearts. Share the XQ Yearbook with students in grades 9-12!