Meaningful Student Involvement: Not Just a Concept

Almost ten years ago I sat down in a room in Washington State’s education agency with a small group of colleagues to wrestle through “it” – these obtuse idea we all shared regarding how the roles of students in schools needed to change. We didn’t necessarily agree on why it needed to change, or even what the outcomes of that change should be. All the same, our discussion, and many, many subsequent conversations with students and educators across the country, led to the formation of my thesis about meaningful student involvement.
Since then, the entire time I was training and evaluating the hundreds of schools and districts I’ve worked with around meaningful student involvement, I have become distinctly aware that I don’t want to simply paint this out as a good idea. Instead, I want educators and students and administrators and community members to understand meaningful student involvement as a practical, pragmatic framework through which they can make powerful decisions about schools. The following is a breakdown of the different roles I’ve identified in the research supporting meaningful student involvement, and how those roles can realistically be integrated into the curriculum, administration and climate of everyday schools. Each title links to examples in that given role.
Opportunities to Make Meaning in Schools
  • Curriculum – Students can examine student, teacher, and district decision-makers’ interest in a given subject; or student engagement in class, or; the efficacy of a particular way of teaching.
  • Administration – Students can analyze current student involvement practices in a school; district policies regarding the active engagement of current school partners such as nonprofits, parents, or businesses; or activities of designed to meet school improvement goals.
  • Climate – Students can compare student/administrator/teacher/parent perceptions of student voice; the effects of training on students; or student/teacher/administrator/parent attitudes towards student achievement.
  • Curriculum – Students co-design curriculum with teachers; create project-based learning opportunities for themselves and their peers; and set personal learning goals.
  • Administration – Students develop policy development or adjustment recommendations; students participate as full members in the formal school improvement process.
  • Climate – Teachers and students co-create classroom behavior standards; teachers participate in professional development settings to learn student/teacher partnership activities
  • Curriculum – Student/adult co-teaching teams are used; student-centered methods are integrated throughout a classroom; multiple intelligences are honored throughout the class.
  • Administration – Teachers participate in professional development focused on student voice and meaningful student involvement, student-led training for teachers
  • Climate – Model student-driven learning throughout education and engage students as co-learners and co-facilitators of staff professional development activities.
  • Curriculum – Students assess theirselves, their peers, teachers, curricula, and classes, recommending changes and acknowledging expectations on teachers and administrators.
  • Administration – Students are engaged with administrators in evaluating the effects and outcomes of meaningfully involving students throughout school decision-making.
  • Climate – Students compare student/teacher relationships and perceptions of respect throughout school.
  • Curriculum – Students participate in classroom management and resource allocation. They are taught consensus skills and encouraged to participate in decisions affecting themselves, their peers, their families and their communities.
  • Administration – Positions are created for students to participate as full members of all school committees; training and cultural awareness activities are taught to all new students and adults in the school; there are committees for students only to make decisions, as well.
  • Climate – Students are authorized to mediate decisions; spaces are created for student decision-making; student forums are facilitated by and for students throughout the school environment.
  • Curriculum – Student interests and identities are engaged throughout the process of curriculum decisions.
  • Administration – Nontraditionally engaged students are encouraged to participate throughout the school environment with deliberate steps towards meaningful involvement.
  • Climate – “Safe spaces” and reception for self- and group-advocacy are fostered throughotu the learning environment.
These are some of the specific ways students can be engaged as partners throughout school buildings. You can find examples of each of these in my publication Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement.

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