Too often in education, important decisions are made without engaging the people most affected: the students. By bringing students into transformation efforts, schools can catalyze improvements and train youth to lead alongside adults in defining and meeting district goals. As data and education experts, YouthTruth helps guide educators and students through the processes of gathering, interpreting, and acting upon student feedback. We believe this process is strongest and most powerful when students are involved at every stage. In this guidebook, you’ll find protocols and strategies from YouthTruth and innovative educators who are elevating student voice to accelerate change.
ABOUT STUDENT VOICE
THE CASE FOR STUDENT FEEDBACK
Research shows that student perception is linked to both academic outcomes and teacher quality, and that student feedback should be a critical component of school improvement initiatives. Incorporating the unique perspectives of students into decision-making creates happier, healthier school systems with higher academic achievement.
WHAT’S IN THE GUIDEBOOK?
This guidebook features strategies that work well in a range of school settings. Strategies are divided into school and district-level examples, but keep in mind that each approach can be modified to fit your context. These models for engagement and youth leadership involve students at every step of the feedback process — from surveying to reflection, and from prioritization to strategic planning.
ENGAGING STUDENTS IN SCHOOL CLIMATE DATA MAKES FOR STRONGER SCHOOLS
Keeping the feedback loop alive by involving students in your school or district’s decision-making process is a critical component of student surveying. Students will know they’ve been heard, and will be invaluable team members in driving change to improve learning for themselves and their peers. Hearing from students directly brings valuable insights to light. If we aren’t engaging students as experts, schools miss out on valuable opportunities to learn and benefit from the voices of those who matter most.
You’ve declared student voice a priority and decided to survey. Now what?
Here are some ways that students can help build buy-in and boost participation.
Students Share the Message Across the District
Activate a Superintendent’s Student Senate
Seven times a year, a diverse group of student representatives across all secondary schools in San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) gather together as the Superintendent’s Student Senate. In the fall of each year, SLCUSD administers the YouthTruth survey, and this group spreads the word about surveying through posters, student-made videos, and district-wide messaging.
Engage Your Youth Commission
Similarly, West Contra Costa Unified School District’s (WCCUSD) Youth Commission leads communication efforts to both adults and students to prepare the district for their spring survey administration.
Both districts found that peer-to-peer messaging about their districts’ desire to make change through student feedback to inspired and prepared peers to give honest and thoughtful feedback, and feel confident their voices would be heard. Following these efforts, SLCUSD achieved a 90% response rate.
If you don’t have a Superintendent’s Student Senate, a Youth Commission, or a similar group that’s okay! With easy to use templates and video scripts provided by YouthTruth, students can easily tailor and launch their communications campaign. For examples of student-created collateral, see YouthTruth’s additional resources.
Students from Novato Unified School District’s Student Advisory Council, facilitated through the Youth Leadership Institute, introduce the YouthTruth survey to their peers.
YouthTruth takes time, but it’s worth it because it gives the teachers a bigger perspective of what is in the students’ minds and what they’re feeling or what they need to improve on.
- Lorena Moulten, 11th Grade Student at High Tech High Chula Vista
San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s SUPERINTENDENT’S STUDENT SENATE
ELECTING THE SENATE BODY | To create a Superintendent’s Student Senate, SLCUSD selected 10 students from each of the district’s five schools. These students were chosen to represent a range of identities and perspectives spanning students’ extracurricular interests, academic focus, grade level, and demographic information to assure that student voice means the voices of ALL students.
GOALS AND OUTCOMES | Twice a year, once in fall and then again in spring, district leaders organize a formal half-day for school principals, central office personnel, and students to meet and discuss issues related to improving learning outcomes across the district. In winter, the Senate typically sets SMART goals based on insights brought to light through the YouthTruth survey that will roll up into the Superintendent’s strategic plan. Championing this student-led feedback loop is part of the district’s goals for success.
LOGISTICS | At each Senate meeting, adult facilitators join student groups in a roundtable setting. Additionally, a few ceremonial gestures such as name tags or an organized lunch can formalize the experience for everyone involved.
West Contra Costa Unified School District’s YOUTH COMMISSION
THE CONVENING | Two to three students from each secondary school in WCCUSD come together monthly in the evenings to discuss pain points, successes, and future plans to help the district improve. A range of adults from within the district are invited to participate to create a culture of collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas.
GOALS | YouthTruth survey data is used to enhance the Commission’s insight into problem solving around culture, engagement, rigor, college and career readiness, and bullying. The Commission has also used the YouthTruth survey as a tool to answer their own inquiries by adding questions. Among other items, the Commission used a recent survey round to discover whether new resource officers working on the district were successfully increasing feelings of safety by asking their peers directly.
OUTCOMES | After WCCUSD’s latest round of surveying, the Commission noticed some differences in the experiences of subgroups that surprised the adults in the room. This powerful discovery led to improvements targeted towards subgroups, in addition to reinforcing the purpose of WCCUSD’s Youth Commission and efforts to enhance the feedback loop between district administration and their most important stakeholders: students.
Students can rally their school’s unique community of students, staff, and families to approach the survey process with authenticity. Here are some ways students can help prepare for survey launch.
Student-led Communications Campaign
Videos: Student-made videos are a great way to get the word out about why the school is prioritizing student voice, what the survey will cover, and the timing of the survey window. Click here to explore a few videos.
Posters: Posters around campus can save precious class time and allow students to articulate your school’s reasons for surveying to peers in their own words.Download an example here.
School Newspaper: Students at San Luis Obispo High School wrote articles in the school paper about their school’s decision to survey to help gain the support and interest of peers. Click here to explore an example.
Morning Announcements: Across SLCUSD, students announced upcoming surveys on the morning news so that students could hear about the survey process and why it matters from their peers.
Students Add Their Own Questions
Prior to learning about YouthTruth, WCCUSD’s Youth Commission was drafting its own survey. But survey design requires time that the students did not have. With YouthTruth’s research-backed surveys focused on the themes that matter most to creating strong climate and culture, the Commission only needed to create three custom questions that asked about district-specific topics.
With the support of YouthTruth’s survey design experts, the items were refined and included in the YouthTruth survey — and students were both engaged in and learned from the survey design process.
If the students think we don’t care about them, that is a big problem. The data opened our eyes to our school in a new way, and as a result we have specifically had professional development on positive student interactions and adopted a social-emotional curriculum.
- School Leader
At Morro Bay High School, student leaders facilitated the survey process by using the YouthTruth proctor script to introduce and explain the anonymous survey. This modeled student leadership and shared ownership of the process, demonstrating that student voices are important in each step. To download a proctor script, click here.
District leadership teams receive student survey results within seven business days and can then dive into the results as a team before engaging students in the debrief process. Post-results conversations with students offer a valuable opportunity to continue to amplify and include student voice in decision-making. Too often, students take surveys and never find out what happens with their feedback. Including students in the data-debrief process sends a message that student input is taken seriously, builds culture, and generates fresh ideas.
Student “Expert Panel”
As Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) principals reflected on their YouthTruth data, they invited a diverse group of students to serve as an “expert panel” to inform their reflection.
Set aside 30-45 minutes during the principals’ meeting when survey data is discussed.
Identify a facilitator, ideally the Superintendent. In this way, the Superintendent is modeling empathy for student experiences and commitment to student voice.
Identify 3-5 data points from survey results for discussion and exploration. Look for data that…
Aligns to strategic priorities (e.g., if the district is prioritizing strong academics, look at how students responded to: “The work that I do for my classes really makes me think” under Academic Rigor)
Represents something to celebrate and keep doing and/or something that should be prioritized for modification
Shows meaningful differences in responses from student subgroups (i.e. grade-level, race/ethnicity, FRPL, etc.)
Invite student representatives to participate as panelists. This is a great time to engage nontraditional student leaders. Share the data-points and question prompts in advance.
Project the selected data and invite students to share their reflections, reactions, and recommendations.
The YouthTruth data informed a new, much more vital strategic planning process which in turn will enhance all of our school
- School Leader
Students Present to the Board of Trustees
After SLCUSD’s Superintendent’s Student Senate created an action plan, students presented recommendations to the district’s board. This helped the district amplify the reach of student voice, add power to the ideas generated between students and district leadership, and showcase the district’s commitment to making student feedback actionable.
Students Set SMART Goals
SLCUSD invited the Superintendent’s Student Senate to create a set of recommendations to Central Office. In winter, this group spent a spent a half-day with the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent, and other district leadership reflecting on their YouthTruth data. They identified bright spots and priorities for change, along with questions that were prompted through the findings. The following spring, students and district leadership gathered again to build on their reflections and set SMART goals.
Inviting students to be a part of school improvement increases students’ feelings of connectedness to their school’s community. Research shows that when students are engaged in improving their learning environment, academic performance is higher.
Focused group reflection is an effective and low-cost way to process and brainstorm ideas for school improvement. Focus groups of youth and adults can capture a wide range of perspectives and ideas, while grounding the conversation in the perspectives of all students as reflected in the survey data. They help bring important themes to the surface and make it easy to identify what items are worth targeted improvement.
High Tech Middle School director, Nikki Hinostro, facilitated a “4-2-Q” review of the charter network’s data with students across campuses from the student advisory group. After each round of surveying, these students find four things to celebrate, articulate two questions based on the results of the survey, and identify one area for growth. Next, the students facilitate the same process with other students in their specific school to engage more students in the feedback.
Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD) regularly hosts student survey data conversations on Twitter during which students can interact with each other and the YouthTruth results in real time. School personnel curate questions and snippets of feedback directly from their YouthTruth reports to spark discussion on key issues. Check out their latest chat using #OUStuVoice.
FEATURED SCHOOL AND DISTRICT PARTNERS
High Tech High
High Tech High is a public charter network located in San Diego that serves over 5,300 students in grades K-12 across 14 campuses. The organization also offers a Teacher Credentialing Program and the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. HTH is guided by equity, personalization, authentic work, and collaborative design.
Monterey Peninusla Unified School District MPUSD envisions a school system that serves ALL students well, and engages each student in deep learning that prepares them to solve the challenges of the 21st century. While MPUSD’s programs will evolve over time, their focus remains steadfast on increasing student achievement and eliminating performance gaps. MPUSD stretches from the city of Marina to the north to the city of Monterey to the south, and encompasses the communities of Del Rey Oaks, Marina, Monterey, Sand City and Seaside.
Novato Unified School District
Novato Unified School District has a rich history dating as far back as 1859 when the first one-room school was built. Just 30 minutes north of San Francisco, the district now serves 7,600 students across seven elementary schools, one K-8 campus, two middle schools, two comprehensive high schools, a continuation high school, independent study program for K-12, and a community day school.
Oxnard Union High School District California
Oxnard Union High School District serves more than 16,000 high school students across eleven schools located north of L.A. in Southern California. The district maintains a strong commitment to equity, high expectations, and powerful futures for every student.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District
San Luis Coastal Unified School District represents the communities of Avila, Edna Valley, Los Osos, Morro Bay, and San Luis Obispo in Southern California and has a current enrollment of approximately 7,500 students served across fifteen campuses. The district focuses on maintaining small neighborhood schools where students are educated from preschool through twelfth grade. SLCUSD also hosts an adult school program offering courses for community members.
West Contra Costa Unified School District
West Contra Costa School Unified School District serves over 30,000 students in Contra Costa County in Northern California, and includes 54 campuses. WCCUSD maintains a commitment to diversity and equity, championing the belief that all students can achieve at high levels of proficiency and that the effects of institutionalized racism can be mitigated in part through education.
Want to learn more about how you can gather student feedback to drive improvements in your school or district?
IN-PERSON STUDENT VOICE WORKSHOP FOR STUDENT LEADERS
DOWNLOAD THE FULL GUIDEBOOK
Use this guidebook to catalyze improvements and train youth to lead alongside adults in defining and meeting district goals. You’ll find protocols and strategies from YouthTruth and innovative educators who are elevating student voice to accelerate change to take back to your school or district. Here’s a sneak peak:
San Luis Coastal Unified School District and West Contra Costa Unified School District leans on student leadership bodies to prepare each district to survey through peer messaging
Monterey Peninsula Unified School District hosts a student “Expert Panel” to inform reflection
High Tech High uses the “42q” method to review of the charter network’s data with students across campuses from the student advisory group
Oxnard Union High School District regularly harnesses the power of technology by hosting discussions of school and district data online