Resources for Meaningful Student Involvement

Central to what Thomas Jefferson called the “grand experiment” of democracy in the United States is the public school. It is a place where civic roles, government responsibility and social values are taught to young people. 
In many schools, education is still seen as preparatory, a form of readiness training on every citizen’s hypothetical roadmap to civic engagement. However, several factors indicate that such a seamless journey just isn’t happening for young people today. 

In response to this growing crisis, some educators are beginning to listen to “student voice” as an attempt to generate feedback from those they serve and to implant a democratic-type experience into the classroom. These teachers and administrators are taking necessary steps towards reforming schools into places that embrace, rather than ignore the necessity of student engagement in education leadership. 
However, there is another equally important aspect of this activity. Students themselves are working with adults and on their own to change learning experiences for themselves and future generations. These efforts are part of a growing movement that is calling for the deliberate empowerment of the experiences, ideas and knowledge of students throughout education, which I call Meaningful Student Involvement. 
Meaningful Student Involvement is not just another classroom management method, or merely listening to “student voice.” Rather, it is a revolutionary approach to teaching and learning that challenges progressive educators to be truly democratic by engaging students in critical reflection for school change. Meaningful Student Involvement happens when purposeful student autonomy meets recognized social interdependence in schools.

The work I present on behalf of this movement represents an intensive multi-year scan of practice, philosophy, action, research and literature about Meaningful Student Involvement from around the world. Instead of following another government mandate or popular social trend, what is revealed shows that this movement is emerging from the “trenches” of education. In classrooms where intentions meet action, boardrooms where values meet policy, and hallways where purpose collides with perception, meaningfulness is happening every single day. From this presentation we understand that it can happening for every single student in every single school every single day.

Documentation of these efforts is slowly coming forth. The sources vary from peer-reviewed journals, organization websites, unpublished doctoral dissertations, student-written zines, and other sources. I have spent a decade examining a wide range of resources, selected to support and promote students as researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates throughout education.

Criteria for inclusion in my scan includes:

  • Support of Meaningful Student Involvement – Authors sought to validate engaging students as learners, teachers, leaders and citizens. 
  • Maintenance of Authentic Voice – Authors speak for themselves as students or adults through their writing. Adults do not falsely attempt to represent students, and students don’t haphazardly dismiss the potential contributions of adults. 
  • Concern for School Change – Authors genuinely react to the necessity of changing students’ roles through school change. 
The materials I’ve designed are intended to provide clear, concise summaries of some of the most indispensable resources available. In the process some important pieces may have inadvertently been excluded. However, that does not make what I have featured no less essential to the determined student, the activist educator, and the persevering administrator, each of whom is dedicated, and each of whom may be currently under-resourced. I offer these resources with the intention of encouraging all of these parties to sit down at the table together. 
Critical educator Paulo Freire maintained that there is no education without learning; one simply cannot exist without the other. Therein lies the challenge of schools today: to acknowledge the lessons students are learning in their experience of school by coincidence, and to transform those lessons into hope, power, and
The hope represented by Meaningful Student Involvement is that students are seen as necessary partners in positive school change, and that educators struggle to engage, embrace and empower young people in the
process of rebuilding education and democracy today and in the future. The resources I provide are offered towards that direction.

 Excerpted from Resources for Meaningful Student Involvement, © 2003, 2012 CommonAction. All rights reserved. For more information, including professional development for educators and students, contact our office today by emailing

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

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