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Guest Posts, Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, School Stories, Student Voices

“Bullying Is Student Voice” (Guest Post by Adam Fletcher)

In a lot of educators’ minds, “student voice” only happens when adults direct learners to share their thoughts in ways that are acceptable in schools. Whether embedded in the curriculum, listened to through adult-led student forums, or guided in carefully moderated websites, student voice is often painted as the cuddly, friendly, and convenient precursor to “student engagement.”

However, after more than a decade of working with schools across the US and Canada to promote Meaningful Student Involvement throughout the education system, I have discovered that student voice is a multifaceted reality that occurs throughout schools, all the time. Today I define student voice as any expression of any learner about any facet of education. It is shared by the kid who runs out in the hallway after class and scribbles “Mrs Jones Sux!”, as well as the student government president who writes a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Its the girls texting answers to the test under the desk, as well as the debate team captain speaking in at the mock government event.

This shows us how bullying is clearly an expression of student voice. While inconvenient and disconcerting, approaching bullying from this understanding can allow educators to discern the genuine source of why bullying happens. Repressed actions, ideas, knowledge, and beliefs need an appropriate outlet, and schools are positioned to engage both young people and adults in learning through Meaningful Student Involvement.

Learn more about this from the new SoundOut Focus Paper, Student Voice and Bullying. Its available online at or embedded below


Adam Fletcher, President and Lead Facilitator of CommonAction; founder and director of The Freechild Project. Adam is an international advocate for youth and community engagement. His career working with young people and adults as a youth worker, educator, writer, and public speaker started when he was 14 years old. Since then he has created more than 50 youth projects in the United States and Canada, including the award-winning Freechild Project, focused on re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society; and SoundOut, promoting student voice in schools. Adam has written more than 20 publications, and has worked with approximately 10,000 children, youth, and adults annually since 2001. Today, Adam lives in Olympia, Washington, with his eight year old daughter and their cat named Mailbox. Learn more about Adam at



8 thoughts on ““Bullying Is Student Voice” (Guest Post by Adam Fletcher)

  1. Hey Adam, David,

    I love this post. Thanks. I love in the focus paper the graphic depicting the cycle of engagement “listen; validate; authorize; act; reflect.” I think your right, listening with care and presence is a good place to begin, but it’s not enough, not an end point, just the precursor to engagement.

    I also love the positioning of relationship, direct authentic relationship between adult and youth as the missing and needed element here.

    I’m reminded of this: d’you know that Loris Malaguzzi poem, The Hundred Languages of Children? It begins:
    The child
    is made of one hundred.
    The child has
    A hundred languages
    A hundred hands
    A hundred thoughts
    A hundred ways of thinking
    Of playing, of speaking.
    A hundred always a hundred…

    One thing I take from the poem is the realization of the extent to which schooling involves a systematic process of devaluing and extinguishing “97” or so modes of communication and expression in the child while prizing and elevating the two or three that we decide are acceptable. But there is “always a hundred.” When we repress certain aspects of selfhood and expression, other forms of expression emerge. These, like bullying, we call dysfunctions, symptoms or syndromes, and often try to legislate, punish or medicate them away.

    I’d also perhaps suggest that bullying (and other distasteful forms of acting out) are not only an expression of a single student voice. They are expressions or symptoms of an entire system, society and culture in pain and crisis. I think the nexus of action may not only be at the point of relationship with single individuals. There is a bigger picture here.

    I’d love to hear more about capturing the power of bullying. Share an example or two if you can.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | August 19, 2012, 7:57 pm
  2. Your focus paper comes closer to hitting upon authentic problem-solving for the issue of “bullying” than any I’ve read – an excellent piece of work! I’d like to add another perspective from my work in Teacher Preparation and my experience w/ students labeled as having “troubling behavior”- many of whom were considered bullies.

    Bullying is indeed an attempt to be heard, but it also is a reflection of what our culture admires and thus teaches children to do. When the school expectation is for children to be herded like sheep and required to respond “appropriately” to rewards and punishments the hidden curriculum is clear: Power belongs to those who control others.

    As in the 1950’s-60’s, we have children living in a warrior narrative and those w/ leadership abilities learn the control and power language and practice it on others. We teach it to them then sort and select to reward those who wield power in a way that supports the school agenda while we box, label and ship renegades to social services. During this process teachers and administrators verbalize their domination and frustration to the young learner crossing the lines between “teacher” and “bully”, “professional” and “personal”, “evaluation” and “gossip”. Insidious and malicious behavior is recognized and rewarded as adult behavior. We slander their reputation, their mothers and fathers, their culture and their reason for being human.

    School personnel fail to recognize several critical conditions in our society:
    1. Academic learning is a holistic process that begins with how we treat those in our care
    2.Many of our young teachers don’t know why they are expected to teach what they are teaching everyday and the lack of intrinsic understanding for the true purpose of academics flows from teacher to learner.
    3. Professional educators who do not understand what they are doing will cross ethical lines and teach children to do so.
    4 Children who refuse to buy into behavioristic control methods are learning exactly what we are teaching.
    4. Those labeled as having troubling behavior are responding to mixed messages in the school environment not bringing it from home.

    Posted by Pamela Whitt PhD | August 20, 2012, 7:04 am
  3. Form follows function, and function follows form. I am certain the “real world” of adults is a model for what takes place in schools —

    Posted by Brent Snavely | August 20, 2012, 8:20 am


  1. Pingback: “Bullying Is Student Voice” (Guest Post by Adam Fletcher) | Student Voice | - September 24, 2012

  2. Pingback: Adam Fletcher Writes About Schools | Adam Fletcher - May 15, 2014

  3. Pingback: Four Kinds of Student Voice | Adam Fletcher - May 15, 2014

  4. Pingback: Every Resource I’ve Made for Schools | Adam Fletcher - September 14, 2014

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