Helping students to find and use their voice to make change requires both the promotion of students’ social and emotional competence and a safe and caring learning environment where adults are listening to and valuing what students have to say.

Educators from our Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) have been prioritizing youth voice efforts for many years. Their work might not draw the banner headlines of marches on Washington, but the impact is evident. On any given day in a district or school that has prioritized SEL, students as young as kindergartners will be helping to set the classroom norms and lead morning meetings and other instructional opportunities. Middle and high school students are mediating disputes, advising on school policy, and experiencing opportunities to give meaningful input into decisions about how the school is run. In some cases, they serve on teams that help hire key staff such as the principal. With SEL’s emphasis on building self- and social awareness, working in teams, self-advocacy and agency, and identifying and nurturing the strengths of each student, student engagement is central to these schools’ work. Students are listened to and respected. Their opinions are heard and acted on. Their well-being, holistically defined, is paramount.

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