George Lucas Educational Foundation
School Culture

All-School Meetings Give Students a Voice

Giving middle school students the chance to talk about issues that are important to them—from cell phone policies to bullying—can transform a school’s culture.

March 20, 2024
Jurgen Ziewe / Ikon Images

It’s Thursday afternoon, and 135 middle school students make their way to the common gathering area for our all-school meeting (ASM). It’s an open space with wide seating fanning outward and upward; the students have named this space “The Pit.” Teachers stand halfway up the stairs, reminding students to sit in the first three rows, so that we are all closer together. Over the next 30 minutes, students listen to the talk about sometimes trivial, sometimes critical matters. At times, ASM can be repetitive. It can feel like the same topics arise week after week, and the responses to these topics may be predictable. However, ASM can also feel like the heartbeat of our school. 

While the topics of conversation that occur during ASM may not feel vital (deciding whether or not to relocate the recycling bins, for example), it’s the process that matters. When students are invited and encouraged to share their voices, it catalyzes a desire to be heard and to listen. It is proof that each member of the school community is valued. When student voice is embraced, the language shifts from “This is a school” toThis is our school.” 

ASM: The Nuts and Bolts

We hold ASM each week for 30 minutes. Because our school is small, we invite all students to join at the same time, but a larger school could consider having grade-level meetings instead. Our ASM committee, composed of 20 students and one teacher, meets weekly to plan the agenda. Planning the agenda requires students to list upcoming birthdays of staff and students, carry over discussion topics from previous weeks, sort through digital submission forms for random acts of kindness, and generate a list of open forum topics—just in case the community doesn’t raise anything new during the meeting. 

As students walk in, we display the norms:

  • Please limit side conversations.
  • Listen to comments so you don’t repeat those comments.
  • Nod your fist if you agree with a statement.
  • Please don’t shut down topics—to someone, it’s an important topic.

Our ASM is facilitated by two students who hold microphones and face the crowd. Two other students are runners, dashing to hand off their mics when someone wants to speak. Another student is the note-taker, and they are in charge of writing down key comments and ideas that arise during the meeting. These roles rotate for each ASM and are decided upon during the weekly meetings. A lead teacher is there for support and guidance, if needed. Each speaker must stand and state their name. 

Meetings follow a structured format:

  • An opening song is played as the community gathers.
  • A quote of the week is read aloud.
  • Upcoming staff and student birthdays are recognized (summer birthdays are recognized during our final ASM of the school year).
  • Announcements are shared. These include things like intramural opportunities, upcoming student performances, library reminders, lost items, and student/staff recognition. 
  • Old business: Topics from the previous meeting that still need to be addressed. 
  • Open forum: Any student or staff member may introduce a new topic for discussion.
  • Random acts of kindness are recognized: These are typically submitted throughout the week via a Google Form.
  • Joys and kudos: We end with students and teachers giving each other specific kudos or sharing a joy from the week.

Some weeks, there are heated conversations about things like overly aggressive behavior during recess or why our cell phone policy should change. Other weeks, the focus might be on ideas for end-of-year field trips. Regardless of the topics discussed, it’s crucial to end with joys and kudos, as it helps everyone walk away on a positive note. 

Though no policy changes occur during ASM, the topics carry over to our advisory council—a group of students, parents, and teachers who vote on proposed policy changes. Many topics that arise during ASM become proposals during advisory council.

Earlier this school year, a student spoke about the need for additional bike racks at our school. An increasing number of students were biking to school, and it was becoming difficult to find a place to secure a bike. After a brief discussion during ASM and advisory council, the administration purchased new bicycle racks.

A tougher topic was that students wanted to see a shift in the cell phone policy. As it stood, students were not allowed to check their phones at all during the school day. They asked for a policy change that would allow them to check cell phones between classes. After discussions during ASM and advisory council, a compromise was reached where students were allowed to check their phones during our flex time at the end of the school day.  

Both of these scenarios demonstrate that the power of student voice can lead to action.  

Witnessing the benefits of ASM over time

My own daughter was a student at our middle school. She is now a senior in high school and attributes her ability to share her voice in classes to ASM. She recently told me, “Middle school ASM made me comfortable speaking my mind in class and taught me how to respectfully disagree with other kids.”

When students reflect on ASM and remember the opportunities they had to talk about what mattered to them, to talk about it in an organized way where teachers listened and sometimes made operational changes because of something they said, it shapes their development. Inviting students to disagree, compliment, question, and generate solutions helps them become well-rounded, independent-thinking, contemplative, compassionate, patient members of society. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as starting with an open mic, a time set aside to air thoughts and feelings about how school is going. From there, a togetherness begins, and it nurtures the kind of community where people feel safe, valued, and heard.

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  • School Culture
  • Student Voice
  • 6-8 Middle School

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