Preparing for Meaningful Student Involvement

No member of the education system—students, teachers, support staff, administrators, politicians, parents, or voters—is born knowing how to meaningfully involve students. It is important to prepare all parts of schools for Meaningful Student Involvement. Following are several steps that can be taken throughout the education system. They can be facilitated by students, along with teachers, administrators, support staff, and education partners from throughout the community. (Walker & Logan, 2008)

Meaningful Mindsets

Before beginning, both student and adults who are targeted for involvement should have mindsets that are meaningful. Our mindsets are what determines how we act, interact and perform in certain circumstances. They are made of four parts: Our thoughts, which inform our actions; our actions, which lead to results; the results, which produce beliefs; and our beliefs, which drive our thoughts. Every student and adult should learn this cycle before engaging in Meaningful Student Involvement opportunities.


SoundOut Student Voice Team at Cleveland High School, Seattle WA
Students at the SoundOut Student Voice Summer Camp in Seattle, Washington.


According to Dweck (1999; 2006), there are two primary types of mindsets that affect students and adults in schools. The first is a fixed mindset where people see skills as something they are born with; challenges as something to avoid; effort as something it takes when you are not good enough; feedback as something personal; and setbacks as something that is discouraging. The second type is the growth mindset, which tells people that skills come from hard work and can always be improved; challenges cause people to grow and we should embrace them; effort is essential and important; feedback is something to learn from; and setbacks are a wakeup call to make us work harder next time.

Preparing students and adults for Meaningful Student Involvement requires a culture that supports growth mindsets within the immediate opportunity, looking to grow them throughout the education system. According to Dweck’s research, the right kinds of praise and encouragement—for effort applied, strategies used, choices made, persistence displayed, and so on—yields more long-term benefits than telling them they are “excellent” when they succeed. (Dweck, 2010)


Preparing Students

Most students have lived a lifetime of routinely being told their voices do not count and their actions do not make a difference. This happens overtly and subversively. Adults set expectations for them; make rules to govern their behavior; create punishments to control their actions; implement punitive measures when they break the rules, and; award behavior they find compelling. Because of this, most students have no idea how to be meaningfully involved in schools. However, almost every student of any age is highly capable of detecting when something is not meaningful for them.


Adam Fletcher Student Voice Speech Graphic Recording by Kathryn Gentner


The goal of preparing students for Meaningful Student Involvement is to foster highly engaged partners who are committed to education, community and democracy. Students should consider what they can do for other students more than themselves and want to inspire their peers to do the same. Ultimately, they should feel strongly about all aspects of education and know they are personally vital to their own education, as well as the system of schooling they are involved in.

Ways To Prepare Students

Preparing students can include…

  • Going through each of the components elaborated on earlier in this book as the Meaningful Student Involvement Learning Process.
  • Assessing the current status of any student involvement in their classroom, school, district, or state is essential to establishing a firm foundation for student engagement.
  • Being absolutely clear with them about the purpose or why you want to meaningfully involve them, work with students and other adults to ensure mutual understanding.
  • Making sure students know what your expectations are for their involvement, support their complete investment by having them create mutual accountability measures for Student/Adult Partnerships.
  • Facilitating Meaningful Student Involvement requires students and adults actively remembering their purpose by not getting distracted by the process.
  • Developing mutual understandings of the roles of students and adults in their activities, Meaningful Student Involvement encourages everyone to be clear and consistent in their expectations.
  • Following the Cycle of Engagement, students should have opportunities to be listened to by adults; validated for their beliefs; authorized to take action; act on their concerns, interests, abilities, ideas and wisdom; and reflect on their involvement.
  • When activities are done, students should complete the Cycle of Engagement working in Student/Adult Partnerships to apply their reflections to the next Cycle, starting with listening.


Preparing Adults

Meaningful Student Involvement requires students and entire schools be engaged. However, it is really important to ensure that adults are engaged, too. No matter what their roles, all adults should foster and build their abilities to meaningfully involve students. This allows every member of the school community to be a partner to students and transform education. It also strengthens the capacity of schools to foster Meaningful Student Involvement for all learners in all schools, everywhere, all of the time. As Mitra wrote, “Before youth can be accepted as important players in school decision making, the concept of student voice must gain acceptance among powerful stakeholders in the school.” (Mitra, 2006) The same holds true of Meaningful Student Involvement.


SoundOut workshop participants in São Paulo, Brasil.
SoundOut workshop participants in São Paulo, Brasil.


Ways To Prepare Adults

Preparing adults can include…

  • Providing professional development for all adults throughout the education system centered on Meaningful Student Involvement and Student/Adult Partnerships helps teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and others focus on collaborating with students beyond simply listening to student voice.
  • Encouraging everyone to form substantive Student/Adult Partnerships throughout the education system, from individual classrooms to the state board of education.
  • Establishing and maintaining positive, empowering Student/Adult Partnerships in order to help dissolve barriers of perceived authority and encourage more open dialogue.
  • Celebrating Meaningful Student Involvement through student-led parent conferences, student assemblies and media outlets, and school open houses.
  • Naming a clear vision for Meaningful Student Involvement in order to transform student perceptions of their own purpose, power and possibilities through strong, consistent messages actively promoted throughout the school, agency or education system as a whole.
  • Having robust, adaptive and continuously improving processes that actively aim for every student in every classroom throughout every school becoming actively engaged in Student/Adult Partnerships and Meaningful Student Involvement.
  • Developing regular and substantial structures in classrooms, schools, districts, state agencies, or otherwise that support Meaningful Student Involvement throughout the education system.
  • Creating specific student discussion areas, regular student congresses/forums/conferences and having real and enforceable open-door policies are all ways to encourage meaningful involvement for students.
  • Challenging the restraints of the school year calendar and the 9 to 5 business day in order to support Meaningful Student Involvement.
  • Allowing natural student development of ownership and investment rather than thrusting students into roles and opportunities they might not want or be ready for.
  • Supporting teachers and school support staff with regular and ongoing capacity building activities, including reading materials, classroom tools, professional events and other supports that foster Meaningful Student Involvement.


Preparing Schools

Facilitating Meaningful Student Involvement inherently means being willing to change the ways a school thinks about student voice, student engagement and Student/Adult Partnerships. Your classroom, club, program and school should always demonstrate commitment to Meaningful Student Involvement.


Student Voice on the Perfect School
SoundOut students conceive their own ideals for schools, then compare and contrast them with others.


Ways to Prepare Schools

Preparing schools can include…

  • Forming a group with a substantial number of students to partner directly with building or agency leadership, whether at the school, district or state levels whose roles are role is linked to education quality and curriculum issues and not merely token issues approved by adults.
  • Establishing an independent student committee or student council, led by students and supported through Student/Adult Partnerships, in order to inform, drive, mediate, and motivate Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.
  • Making student schedules central to setting meetings and assigning sufficient time and space for them to be involved.
  • Creating new policies to sustain the practice of Meaningful Student Involvement
  • Collecting data as it shows how students, peers, adults and the larger school are affected by Meaningful Student Involvement activities.
  • Building specific budget line items that support the implementation of Meaningful Student Involvement throughout the education system, whether starting small or large.
  • Facilitating regular training for students and adults on Meaningful Student Involvement to introduce and strengthen skills, knowledge and commitment.
  • Documenting policies and procedures that supporting Meaningful Student Involvement, and making those documents know to students and available to them in order to assure accountability to students and adults throughout the education system and beyond.
  • Enforcing mutual accountability can mean having a regular coordinator or liaison for Meaningful Student Involvement report to a high-level administrator with the position is incorporated into a school’s or nonprofit’s organizational chart.
  • Surviving a significant change of leadership at the school and being available to succeeding classes of students throughout the school.
  • School-driven work can including gathering groups, organizations and/or student communities within the school to assist with designing, implementing, sustaining and/or evaluating their Meaningful Student Involvement activities through conferences, workshops and/or local outreach.
  • Forming new networks and coalitions within schools, around districts, across states, throughout nations, and across the world can support Meaningful Student Involvement. Gathering like-minded students and adults and organizations form networks leads to support and coalitions for advocacy. Tangible action, practical outcomes, and meaningful activities form and transformation the bonds that unite them.
  • Ensuring there are appropriate, meaningful, sufficient and effective ways to meaningfully involve students throughout your classroom, school, district, state or nation.
  • Preparing adults to intentionally share increasing amounts of authority with students throughout the course of activities.
  • Focusing everyone involved to stay centered on characteristics, not individuals; transformation, not reform; and courage, not corruption.
  • Making space for all students to become meaningfully involved and not just the loudest or best performing students.
  • Working with fellow adults throughout the education system to increase support and commitment to Meaningful Student Involvement.
  • Establishing a specific and committed space for activities to be held.
  • Building a schoolwide commitment to Student/Adult Partnerships and Meaningful Student Involvement through messaging, workshops, assessments and ongoing activities that target all members of the school community.
  • Creating an ongoing mechanism for meaningfully involving students in assessment processes that report frequently how student views have helped the school, district, state or nation to improve.


Preparing the Education System

Seeing that every individual classroom is part of a school that affects Meaningful Student Involvement, Student/Adult Partnerships require readying all the parts, components and colleagues possible. This preparation can focused on curricular areas within a school, feeder schools within a district, multiple districts within a city, multiple cities within a state, and so on. The education system includes the individuals listed above, as well as the formal and informal policies and practices, the curriculum, and so forth. Education systems can demonstrate Meaningful Student Involvement in many ways.


Student Voice in the Structure of Schools for


Ways to Prepare the Education System

Preparing the education system can include…

  • Analyzing ways in which schools can engage students through equitable partnerships with adults throughout education.
  • Demonstrating strong connections between academic learning and meaningful involvement.
  • Examining the underlying causes and effects of Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.
  • Engaging all students in every school all of the time through Meaningful Student involvement.
  • Requiring authentic engagement instead of tokenism, decoration and manipulation.
  • Teaching how students about student voice, learning, the education system, school transformation and learning through action.
  • Demonstrating how Student/Adult Partnerships actively, powerfully and purposefully transform learning, teaching and leadership throughout schools.
  • Providing resources to transform education in ways that benefit all students, all adults and all communities in constant win/win situations.
  • Inspiring and empowering students and adults to constantly work together to make Meaningful Student Involvement reality for everyone, everywhere, all of the time.

These different parts of preparing students, adults, schools and systems for Meaningful Student Involvement can deeply influence the meaningfulness, outcomes and sustainability of Student/Adult Partnerships throughout learning, teaching and leadership across the entirety of the education system. That intentionally is a key to meaningfulness, and builds opportunities for the future as well as answers needs in the present.


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[i] Adapted from Banks, J. A. (1997). Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society. New York: Teachers College Press.


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