Intro to Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of the education system for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.

Meaningful Student Involvement transforms education by empowering student voice in student/adult partnerships to foster student engagement.

Since 2002, SoundOut has been promoting Meaningful Student Involvement, which is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of the education system for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.

This article is an introduction to the concept. For more information, see our book Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook.

Understanding Meaningfulness

Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement (c) 2015 SoundOut.

Moving beyond listening to student voice, Meaningful Student Involvement engages every student as a partner with adults throughout K-12 schools. Centered on learning, this approach confronts the historic perception of students as passive recipients of adult-driven education systems by situating

It introduces nontraditional, highly effectual opportunities for students in hallways, classrooms, principals’ offices, school boardrooms, and beyond, providing a model for school improvement that strengthens the commitment of students to education, community and democracy.

Embracing a systems thinking approach to school transformation, Meaningful Student Involvement re-envisions the roles of students in equitable partnerships with adults throughout the learning environment. It promotes student engagement by securing roles for students in every facet of the educational system and recognizes the unique knowledge, experience and perspective of each individual student.

Different than Meaningful

Student Voice Meaningful Student Involvement Student Engagement Process

While Meaningful Student Involvement touches upon many areas, activities and strategies for learning, teaching and leadership in education, it is not the same or synonymous with other topics. For instance, Meaningful Student Involvement is different from…

  • Student voice, which is any expression of any student about any aspect of learning, schools or education.
  • Student engagement, which is the excitement and investment a young person feels towards learning
  • Pupil consultation, which is a systematic process for listening to students’ opinions about school.
  • Student participation, which is a self-determined act of students committing to something in school.

Meaningful Student Involvement transforms education by empowering student voice in student/adult partnerships to foster student engagement. It offers practical, tangible and pragmatic avenues for action right now.

How It Happens

Spaces for Student Voice
These are the spaces where student voice should be engaged throughout education.

Meaningful Student Involvement happens through learning, teaching and leadership throughout K-12 education from the classroom to the school board room and beyond.

Professional development for educators on this model focuses on both line-level practices to create Student/Adult Partnerships with every student in every grade level in all schools, as well as systems transformation affecting all of education.

Essential roles emerge, including students as school planners, educational researchers, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and education advocates. It also includes identifying concrete learning goals from involvement, creating practical systems for sustainability, and transforming traditionally exclusive adult-only environments.

What Meaning Looks Like

Meaningful Student Involvement is for every learner and every adult in every school, everywhere, all of the time!

In order to implement strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement effectively, you must discover the breadth of Meaningful Student Involvement. The following characteristics can give you a sense of the process involved.

  1. High Levels of Student Authority: A core commitment is fostered within all members of the school community – including teachers, administrators, school staff, parents, community supporters and others – to meaningfully involve students as learners, teachers and leaders throughout schools.
  2. Interrelated Strategies: Learn about and incorporate the Cycle of Engagement into learning, teaching and leadership of schools. All school improvement activities should reflect the frameworks of meaningful involvement. Efforts that engage teachers as classroom experts and parents as community partners can also include students as meaningful contributors. New, daily and consistent efforts should be made to engage all students, everywhere, all the time.
  3. School-wide Approaches: Create cross-system education goals.
  4. Personal Commitment: All adults throughout an education environment expand their expectation of every student in every school to become an active and equal partner in school improvement.
  5. Sustainable Structures of Support: Sustainable structures are implemented to support students and educators as they create responsive systems that engage all students in all schools, everywhere all of the time.
  6. Strong Learning Connections: The experience, perspectives and knowledge of all students are validated through sustainable, powerful and purposeful education-oriented roles.

Support and Researc

This is the Student Voice Continuum by Adam Fletcher for SoundOut

As a research-driven model reflecting international practice, Meaningful Student Involvement effectively reveals the evolving capacities of children and youth in the environments where they spend a large majority of their days: schools. It centers on developing constructivist-learning opportunities for students to participate in roles as education researchers, school planners, teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and advocates in schools, for schools.

Adults in schools, including teachers, administrators, and support staff, as well as parents, are central to Meaningful Student Involvement, as well. By building partnerships for better curriculum, classroom management, and formal school improvement, Meaningful Student Involvement recognizes the necessity of engaging all adults within the learning environment as partners to students. Focused professional development for staff and learning opportunities integrated throughout the school day for students allow the whole school to change.

By reinforcing critical thinking, active problem solving, civic participation, and an appreciation for diverse perspectives, Meaningful Student Involvement allows students to apply essential “soft skills” learning to real world issues that affect them every day. It represents a shift away from the perspective of students as passive recipients of adult-driven schools by positioning every young person in every learning environment as a learner, teacher, and leader. Even more so, Meaningful Student Involvement gives schools concrete, customized tools to do this.

Meaningful Student Involvement is not just an idea whose time has come; it is a whole new reality that schools must urgently embrace.

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