Teacher Mindsets About Meaningful Student Involvement

Over the last decade, there has been a lot written about growth mindsets. There has been a lot said for adults learning about the concept, and teaching students about the idea. Here I want to elaborate on the role of growth mindsets for meaningful student involvement.

This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.

In the 1990s, Carol Dweck started writing about growth mindsets. Centered on students’ perceptions of failure, Dweck found that some students came back quickly from failure and some students were devastated by failure. By studying their perceptions of failure, Dweck identified that the difference was that some students had a growth mindset and believed they could get smarter, while others had a fixed mindset and thought they would never succeed.

Testing whether those mindsets could be changed for the positive, Dweck and other researchers discovered that fixed mindsets could be changed with specific interventions.

I began learning about mindsets a decade ago. Applying what I found to the K-12 schools I worked in, I found that educators’ mindsets often determined which student voice they would listen to, which students would be meaningfully involved in schools, and which students would be focused on to engage. These seemingly innate perceptions about students were routinely informed by student identities and performance in schools, and were far from the equity that many educators say they aspire to.

Fixed Mindsets about Students

I quickly found that student involvement in traditional school activities, such as extracurricular clubs and athletics, was predicated on whether teachers thought the students who were involved deserved to be involved. If they deserved it, they let the students know. I call this gatekeeping. Gatekeeping allows certain students to be involved and keeps roles for teachers as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers decide which students can be involved according to various spoken and unspoken factors, including:

  • Academic achievement
  • Likeability
  • Compliance
  • Race
  • Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
  • Socio-economic background

These “gates” are predicated on bias, allowing and disallowing some student voice to be valued while other student voice is silenced. It is the educators’ mindset or the join mindsets of several educators or school administration that permits, accepts and sustains this bias. This fixed mindset about students believes:

  • Students have to deserve or earn the right to have student voice heard
  • Only certain students selected by adults should be heard and other students should not be heard
  • There is a “perfect” or “right” type of student voice, and every other student voice is imperfect or isn’t right
  • Student voice should reproduce teacher voice
  • Only certain students have innate abilities to share student voice, and other students do not have this ability

Growth Mindsets about Students

A growth mindset about student involvement, student voice and student engagement allows and encourages all students to experience Meaningful Student Involvement whether adults accept them or not. Educators see that all learners have student voice, and all students understand they deserve to be involved — not because they’re particularly special, but because they are learners, and all learners should be heard, seen, acknowledge, and empowered.

When educators have growth mindsets about students, they…

  • Believe every student voice deserves to be heard
  • Make space for students to share what they want to, rather than just what adults want them to share
  • Work to deliberately engage every single student every single day in every single way possible
  • Teach students to focus on improving how they share student voice, not which students share or what they share
  • Focus on why student voice matters and why students share how they do
  • Believe in increasing others teachers’ capacities to meaningfully involve students

Decades ago, Dweck and her colleagues showed that teacher mindsets directly and deeply impact student mindsets. One of the informal findings from my work has been that when teachers think students are capable of positively transforming schools, students think they are positively capable of transforming schools. While their actions are (luckily) not contingent on adults believing in them, more students are going to become more active in education transformation when we check ourselves.

How do adult mindsets affect student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement in your school? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

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Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change

Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change by Adam Fletcher
The cover to Adam Fletcher’s Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change (2005).

This e-book describes the elements of meaningful student involvement in the context of school change efforts. It presents a five-step cycle of listening, validating, authorizing, mobilizing, and reflecting on student voice; a tool to measure the quality of activities involving student voice; and several examples of what students as researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates look like in practice, at elementary, middle, and high schools. These tools include student-created district budgets, decision-making roles for students on committees for hiring teachers and principals, and student-led forums and conferences. Additionally, it presents barriers to implementing this type of reform and possible strategies to meet these challenges.

(28 pgs, 2005, FREE)

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Students as Learning Evaluators

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement can feature roles for students as learning evaluators. Following is an introduction to these opportunities, including details, stories and resources.


SoundOut's Adam Fletcher facilitates students in planning student voice.
SoundOut’s Adam Fletcher facilitates students in planning student voice activities.

INTRODUCTION

On one level, teachers are always listening to students’ opinions, checking for comprehension, and whether they have accomplished a task. Another level is reflected in the barrage of student surveys conducted, and the myriad education books that tokenize students’ opinions with quotes from students on their covers.

The Difference of Meaningful Student Involvement

Meaningful Student Involvement calls for something more, something that is deliberate, empowering, far-reaching and sustainable. Engaging students as evaluators calls for educators to develop practical, applicable feedback opportunities where students are encouraged to be honest, open and solution-oriented. Students find particular investment in evaluation when they can see tangible outcomes, and have some measure of accountability from the systems, educators, or situations they are evaluating.

Over the course of a school year, teachers might want a variety of evaluations from students. These may include:

  • An occasional large-scale forum where the opinions of students in one or all grade levels are canvassed;
  • Creating a regular pattern of evaluative feedback in lessons; or,
  • Facilitating a series of one-to-one or small group discussions, how members of a particular sub-group of students (the disengaged, high-achievers, young women, young men, or students not from the majority culture in the surrounding community, for example) are feeling about their learning experiences; or shaping a new initiative in the classroom or school.

By involving students as evaluators, schools can develop purposeful, impacting, and authentic assessments of classes, schools, teachers, and enact accountability and ownership for all participants in the learning process. Effective evaluations may include student evaluations of classes and schools; student evaluations of teachers; student evaluations of self, and; student-led parent-teacher conferences, where students present their learning as partners with teachers and parents, instead of as passive recipients of teaching done “to” them.

Learning through Self-Examination

Experience shows that student voice is best understood through the personal experience of all students in all schools, everywhere. We have discovered that critical self-examination leads to deeper perspectives about Meaningful Student Involvement, which allows the evolution of action to be responsive to ever-transforming student populations in schools. We have also found that research-based tools can successfully guide practice in Meaningful Student Involvement, and engaging students in evaluation can help develop those tools.

When this kind of evaluation is new to a school, teachers may feel apprehensive about talking with students in a way that changes traditional power relationships within the school. Teachers may feel challenged by empowering students for many reasons, including feeling disempowered to make decisions in their own classrooms. In response to what is perceived as some schools’ inadequate understanding of the experiences and opinions of students, community groups and education organizations across the nation are engaging students as evaluators. Adults work with students in these programs to design evaluations, conduct surveys, analyze data and create reports to share with fellow students and educators.

Meaningful Student Involvement is tantamount to putting mutual respect and communication in motion between students and educators in schools. Meaningful Student Involvement also requires the investment from educators and students. Many student voice programs have simply thrown the job of sounding out at students, without showing students the degrees of possibility for the input and action of young people. Some neglect the necessity of two-way dialogue, of collaborative student/teacher problem solving, and of truly student inclusive, interdependent school change.

Meaningful Student Involvement in education evaluation gives students and educators the impetus to establish constructive, critical dialogues that place common purpose and interdependence at the center of the discussion. When dissent is encountered, appropriate avenues for resolution can be identified. When inconsistencies and prejudice are revealed, intentional exposure and practical understanding is sought. When educators strive to engage the hope students have for schools, they can foster students’ growth as effective evaluators who actually impact the processes of learning, teaching and leading. In turn, students will offer vital lessons for educators and the education system as a whole.

Purposeful Assessments

Meaningful Student Involvement engages students as evaluators delivering purposeful assessments of their classes, teachers, and whole school. Students can also evaluate themselves or facilitate student-led parent-teacher conferences, where students present their learning as partners with teachers and parents, instead of as passive recipients of teaching done “to” them.

When this kind of evaluation is new to a school, teachers may feel apprehensive about talking with students in a way that changes traditional power relationships within the school. Teachers may feel challenged by empowering students for many reasons, including feeling disempowered to make decisions in their own classrooms. In response to what is perceived as some schools’ inadequate understanding of the experiences and opinions of students, community groups and education organizations across the nation are engaging students as evaluators. Adults work with students in these programs to design evaluations, conduct surveys, analyze data and create reports to share with fellow students and educators.

PLACES FOR STUDENTS AS EVALUATORS

Following are some of activities that engage students as evaluators.

  • Classrooms: Students assess themselves, 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.
  • Culture: Students compare student/teacher relationships and perspectives of respect throughout school.
Stories of Students as Evaluators

Following are examples of students evaluating each others, evaluating themselves, evaluating teachers, curriculum, school cultures, and more.

Considerations for Students as Evaluators

Engaging students as evaluators should not mean replacing any other evaluations. Instead, it should be seen as an additional information source. This is true whether students are evaluating themselves, their peers, classroom curricula, school climate, or their teachers directly. Student evaluations should not replace teacher evaluations. This is an important reality to consider.

Another important consideration is that students in all of the stories above where not simply thrown evaluations and expected to do wonderful things. Instead, they were partnered meaningfully with adults, taught about what they were evaluating, and facilitated through the entire process. This is essential for honoring student learning as well as whatever is being evaluated.

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

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Elsewhere Online

References

  • Campbell, P., Edgar, S., Halsted, A. (1994). “Students as evaluators: A model for program evaluation,” Phi Delta Kappan 76(2): 160-165.
  • Chappuis, Stephen & Stiggins, Richard J.(2002). “Classroom Assessment for Learning,” Educational Leadership 60 (1): 40-43.
  • Hackman, D. (1997). Student-led conferences at the middle level. Champagne, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No ED407171).
  • McCall, D. (2000). Selected case studies of youth involvement in public decision making. Vancouver, BC: Centre on Community and School Health. http://www.schoolfile.com/cash/youthinvolvement.htm
  • REAL HARD. (2003). Student voices count: A student-led evaluation of high schools in Oakland. Oakland, CA.: Kids First. http://www.kidsfirstoakland.org/kidsfirsreport.pdf
  • Scriven, M. (1995). Student ratings offer useful input to teacher evaluations. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED398240).

DO YOU HAVE STORIES, RESOURCES OR OTHER INFORMATION TO SHARE ABOUT STUDENTS AS PLANNERS? LEAVE YOUR INFORMATION IN THE COMMENTS BELOW OR CONTACT SOUNDOUT.

Your FREE copies of the Meaningful Student Involvement series are online at soundout.org

Articles by SoundOut

Following are articles written for SoundOut about a variety of topics related to Meaningful Student Involvement. These publications cover student voice, student engagement, student/adult partnerships and more.

Articles on Meaningful Student Involvement

  1. Intro to Meaningful Student Involvement
  2. Making Student Involvement Meaningful
  3. Understanding Meaningfulness
  4. Tips on Action for Meaningful Student Involvement
  5. Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement
  6. Critical Questions about Meaningful Student Involvement
  7. Measuring the People in Meaningful Student Involvement
  8. Measuring Activities in Meaningful Student Involvement
  9. Measuring Meaningful Student Involvement
  10. Strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement
  11. Measuring the Outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement
  12. Elements of Meaningful Student Involvement
  13. Planning for Meaningful Student Involvement
  14. The Characteristics of Meaningful Student Involvement
  15. Fully Meaningful Schools
  16. Learning from Meaningful Student Involvement
  17. Meaningful Student Involvement Activities
  18. Whole School Meaningful Student Involvement
  19. Reflection and Meaningful Student Involvement
  20. Methods for Meaningful Student Involvement
  21. Meaningful Student Involvement for Teachers
  22. Grade-Specific Approaches to Meaningful Student Involvement
  23. Adult Learning through Meaningful Student Involvement
  24. Preparing for Meaningful Student Involvement
  25. Places Meaningful Student Involvement Can Happen
  26. Issues Addressed Through Meaningful Student Involvement
  27. People Affected by Meaningful Student Involvement
  28. Impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement on Learning
  29. Impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement on Development
  30. Meaningful Student Involvement Deepens Learning
  31. Meaningful Student Involvement Engages All Students
  32. Meaningful Student Involvement Expands Student Expectations
  33. Meaningful Student Involvement Instills Commitment
  34. Meaningful Student Involvement Provides Systemic Responses
  35. Meaningful Student Involvement Acknowledges Students
  36. Meaningful Student Involvement Creates Student/Adult Partnerships
  37. Meaningful Student Involvement Does NOT Filter Students
  38. Meaningful Student Involvement Recognizes Students Rights
  39. Aims of Meaningful Student Involvement
  40. Learning from Meaningful Student Involvement
  41. Meaningful Student Involvement in North America
  42. Help Us Help Ourselves: Creating Supportive Learning Environments With Students
  43. Student-led Advocacy Success Stories
  44. Ladder of Student Involvement
  45. Students Can Improve Schools
  46. Student-Led Research Planning Guide

Articles on Student Voice

  1. Reasons Why Meaningful Student Involvement Matters
  2. Assessing the Conditions for Student Voice by Michael Fielding
  3. Definitions of Student Voice
  4. Student Voice Tip Sheet
  5. 65 Ways Students Can Share Student Voice
  6. Intro to Student Voice
  7. Why Student Voice? A Research Summary
  8. Student Voice and Student Engagement as a Trojan Horse
  9. Advocate for Student Voice
  10. Adults Must Engage Student Voice
  11. Share Student Voice Daily
  12. Four Kinds of Student Voice
  13. Student Voice in School Building Leadership
  14. Where Student Voice Happens
  15. Overcoming Barriers to Student Voice
  16. Bullying and Student Voice
  17. Convenient or Inconvenient Student Voice
  18. Broadening the Bounds of Involvement: Transforming Schools With Student Voice
  19. Acknowledging Student Voice

Articles on Student Engagement

  1. Multiple Engagement Styles
  2. Five Lessons About Student Engagement
  3. Intro to Student Engagement
  4. Defining Student Engagement: A Literature Review
  5. Cycle of Engagement

Articles on Barriers to Students

  1. Adult-Driven Student Voice
  2. Adultism in Schools
  3. Barriers to School Transformation
  4. 20 Ways to Stop Student Tokenism
  5. 51 Ways Student Tokenism Happens
  6. Students Sabotaging Meaningful Student Involvement
  7. Education Structure as a Barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement
  8. School Culture as a Barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement
  9. Students as Barriers
  10. Adults as Barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement
  11. Students on a Pedestal
  12. Intro to Student Tokenism

Articles about Student/Adult Partnerships

  1. Student/Adult Partnership Activities
  2. Elements of Student/Adult Partnerships
  3. Types of Relationships between Students and Adults
  4. Four Ways Adults Treat Students
  5. Adult Perspectives of Students

Articles for Understanding the Education System

  1. Understanding State Education Agencies
  2. How Decisions Are Made In School
  3. Learning to Learn
  4. Parts of the Education System
  5. The Purpose of Schools
  6. Extracurricular Activities
  7. Modern Schools
  8. Engaging the Disengaged

Articles about Students on School Boards

  1. Students on School Boards Fact Sheet
  2. Terms Related to Students on School Boards
  3. Activities for Students on School Boards
  4. Rationale for Students on School Boards
  5. How to Get Students on School Boards
  6. Options for Student Voice on School Boards
  7. Should School Boards Elect or Select Student Members?
  8. State-By-State Summary of Laws Affecting Students on School Boards
  9. State-By-State Summary of Students on School District Boards
  10. State-By-State Summary of Students on District School Boards
  11. State-By-State Summary of Students on State Boards of Education
  12. Students on School Boards in Canada
  13. Province-By-Province Summary of Laws Affecting Students in Decision-Making
  14. Summary of Students on District School Boards
  15. Students on District School Boards
  16. Students on State Boards of Education
  17. Students on School Boards Toolbox
  18. Involving Students on School Boards
  19. Barriers to Students on School Boards
  20. Quotes about Students on School Boards
  21. Critical Questions
  22. Publications Related to Students on School Boards
  23. FAQs
  24. Sources

Reviews

  1. Review: Fires in the Bathroom
  2. Review: “Student Voice in School Reform” and “Opening the Floodgates”
  3. Review: “What Works in Education Reform: Putting Young People at the Center”
  4. Review: How to Improve Your School by Giving Pupils a Voice
  5. Review: Critical Voices in School Reform; Students Living through Change
  6. Review: Student Leadership and Restructuring: A Case Study
  7. Review: Learning from Student Voices
  8. Review: FORUM Special Issue on Student Voice
  9. Tools for Listening to Student Voice
  10. Review of In Our Own Words: Students’ Perspectives on School
  11. A Review of “Student Perspectives on School Improvement”
  12. Review of “Authorizing Students’ Perspectives: Toward Trust, Dialogue, and Change in Education”
  13. Review: The Question of the Student in Educational Reform
  14. Review: The Roles of Youth in Society; A Reconceptualization
  15. Review: Look Who’s Talking Now; Student Views of Restructuring Schools
  16. Review: Putting Students at the Centre in Education Reform
  17. Review: “Listening To Urban Kids: School Reform And The Teachers They Want”
  18. Feature on Alison Cook-Sather
  19. Feature on Michael Fielding
  20. Feature on Roger Holdsworth
  21. Feature on Dana Mitra
  22. Feature on Adam Fletcher

 

Related Content

Measuring Activities in Meaningful Student Involvement

When measuring Meaningful Student Involvement activities, its vital to examine the activities that make up what’s happening. Each activity can include many different parts. Here, SoundOut examines the culture of activities, the actions involved, the barriers in activities and the evaluation of activities.


Measuring the Culture of Meaningful Student Involvement

Measuring Meaning in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org
Measuring Meaning in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org

When assessing Meaningful Student Involvement its important to consider the effects on school culture. Engaging students as partners in school change should including creating the culture to support Meaningful Student Involvement for all students in all schools, all the time.

This culture should be reflected in a variety of ways. All students should feel safe to be meaningfully involved, which truly focuses on whether their involvement is equitable or not. Students should be identify in their own language and without coaching from adults how they are meaningfully involved, how they’re respected, and how they’re responded to by adults.

Involving students meaningfully should transform the attitudes and systems that underlay the culture of individual classrooms, whole school buildings and eventually, the entirety of the education system. This looks like Student/Adult Partnerships that are mutually supportive and accountable for both students and adults, whether in the classroom, board room, hallways, or legislatures. Meaningful Student Involvement changes can be apparent in school when students and adults address personal challenges and organizational barriers together, leading to healthier, more school democratic cultures where everyone can be engaged as partners.

Other ways school culture reflects Meaningful Student Involvement include, but are not limited to, educators maintaining a substantial focus on student involvement even when students appear to be disinterested; gradual or radical shifts in student-adult relationships to reflect higher perceptions of students and the elements of Student/Adult Partnerships introduced earlier in this book; and visually observable aspects, including relaxed conversations among students and adults about education and school improvement; verbal and written reflection shared among students and adults; and rituals reflecting Meaningful Student Involvement, including committee participation, Non-Violent Communication between students and adults; and student orientation programs led by students and adults.

When schools continually demonstrate meaningful involvement in research, planning, teaching, evaluation, decision-making and advocacy, their culture demonstrates what we are looking for. There will be regular and ongoing expectations for all members of the school community to hold meaningful involvement tantamount for all learners, as well as a commitment by building leadership to professional development and training opportunities that foster Student/Adult Partnerships. Additionally, the culture of education reflects Meaningful Student Involvement when discriminatory language against students is not tolerated; clear expectations and policies reflect a commitment to Student/Adult Partnerships, and a total commitment to the Cycle of Engagement is apparent throughout learning, teaching and leadership.

 


Measuring Action in Meaningful Student Involvement

Measuring Activities in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org

Taking action is the crux of Meaningful Student Involvement. All action should start by students working with adults to determine what constitutes meaningful student involvement. Conscientious steps should be taken to ensure that student involvement is meaningful according to that initial work. Students should understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement in general, as well as the particular activity at hand, and they should know who made the decisions about Meaningful Student Involvement and why they were made initially.

Throughout the course of action the process and are the results of Meaningful Student Involvement should be recorded. That recording should be reported in writing and distributed to both students and adults. The process should include a variety of steps, including having students work with adults to identify school issues, challenges, or problems, allowing students to identify their own possible solutions or goals in their school, and engaging students in working with adults to identify possible solutions or goals in their school.

Students should feel fully informed about issues that matter to them, and learn about issues that matter to the whole school they’re in, the larger community, where they live, and the entire nation. Project ideas and activities should be co-initiated by students and adults, as well.

There is a large role for students in formal school improvement. They can be involved in identifying the problems, challenges, or needs to be addressed by school improvement, as well as formulating the problem and analyzing the situation. They can co-create school improvement policy, participate in adopting school improvement policy, and be meaningfully involved in approving programs, services, and activities to implement school improvement. Students can be meaningfully involved in teaching adults about school improvement, monitoring school improvement, and evaluating the impact of school improvement. Rather than act in isolation, students should be meaningfully involved with adults and other community members in school improvement as well. (Counts, 1978)

The best action for Meaningful Student Involvement should always end in reflection. Afterwards, students who are involved should receive a written or verbal report on the outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement.


Measuring Barriers in Meaningful Student Involvement

Barriers in Schools to Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org
Barriers in Schools to Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org

An essential measure for Meaningful Student Involvement is to deliberately acknowledge and conscientiously address the barriers to engaging students as partners throughout education. The first step in addressing barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement is to acknowledge they exist, and to name them as best as possible.

False and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate should be deliberately addressed by students and/or adults throughout all activities. All adults in the school should be clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement. An informal assessment should be made of whether adults throughout the learning environment, and a determination should be made whether adults provide good examples of Meaningful Student Involvement. Students’ experience and inexperience addressed with Meaningful Student Involvement should be determined as well.

Barriers can be addressed when students and adults identify and address negative experiences students and adults have had with student involvement, and steps should be taken to reduce the resistance from adults and students. In some circumstances, this can mean adding an equal or greater number of students to boards, committees and other decision-making activities throughout the education system that previously only engaged a few students. However, more than likely it means creating new avenues for student voice in places where only adults made decisions before. This can happen by creating student roles for every student in decision-making affecting individual students; it can also happen by creating roles for students in activities where adults made decisions for large groups of students.

When adults throughout education actively educate students about the education system, including focusing on specific functions and outcomes, Meaningful Student Involvement can happen and the barrier of obfuscation can be overcome. A climate should be fostered in every opportunity for student voice where students feel comfortable engaging in learning, whether through question-asking, interacting, or otherwise engaging in the topic at hand. Deliberate steps should be made to foster this climate, including acknowledgment of student schedules, learning styles, developmental abilities, and other relevant actions. If activities happen outside school and school time, planning should consider whether the location and times of meetings are convenient to students; determining if the times and dates of meetings are convenient for students; choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation; and other initiatives or changes going on in classes, local schools, districts, or state programs that will complement the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement.

A major barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement is student credibility. If representative participation is required in an activity, steps should be taken to ensure student representatives are chosen so that they are credible among the students they are supposed to represent. Given the diversity of every school, this should include accounting for all sorts of student cultures, attitudes, beliefs and ideas. Adults should check and double check when they think a student is credible by working with students as partners to ensure credibility. Sometimes, it is appropriate to select a high achieving, popular student to represent their peers in a student involvement activity. However, there are other times when it is not meaningful for students or adults to have that same student representing students who may be low performing or acting in ways that are not appropriate for school.

Many adults are addressing student voice as giving students a say in what, when, where, how and why they learn. This is a misunderstanding of student voice and actually serves as a barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement. It positions adults as the arbitrators of student voice, placing the responsibility for students’ expressions about education on the shoulders of educators. In reality, students are constantly expressing themselves; the question is whether or not adults are willing to listen and act upon what students have to say. Listening to students’ needs, interests and concerns has had a big impact on school life and classroom practice; engaging students as partners in learning throughout the educational process and the entirety of the education system has an even larger impact. Overcoming the barriers presented by students, adults and schools is a key to moving in that direction.

 


Measuring Evaluation in Schools

Measuring Meaning in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org
Measuring Meaning in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org

Assessing outcomes should always be a part of Meaningful Student Involvement opportunities. Every opportunity focused on Meaningful Student Involvement should opportunities for formal and informal feedback from students. The events, opportunities, and numbers of students measured with regard to all the factors affected by the opportunity, as well as the levels, motivations, and impacts of students and adults who are involved or affected. The quantitative effects of Meaningful Student Involvement can be measured, monitored, and reported, including grades, attendance records, dropout rates, the number of student participants in a given activity, and other numerical effects of Meaningful Student Involvement.

Meaningful Student Involvement affects many people. Students other than those who are directly involved can provide substantial input when given the opportunity to be involved as independent evaluators in assessing action. Formal assessments of Meaningful Student Involvement completed by students and adults, and the summative impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement should be identified. The varying short- and long-term impacts may include short and long-term effects and impacts. The effects of Meaningful Student Involvement on classrooms may include the creation of new curriculum or programs, widespread engagement of student-led evaluation and all types of meaningful involvement, and more. All of these should be assessed for their presence, purpose and power.

Meaningful Student Involvement can impact school administration through the development of administrative support and structures. Professional development for school staff focused on Meaningful Student Involvement, including teachers and others, can be made mandatory or more made more available. Materials on engaging students as partners can be made widely available, too. One of the most effective measures of meaningfulness may be the amount of more appropriate, student-friendly policies, rules, or guidelines adapted in order to promote, ensure, and sustain Meaningful Student Involvement. Another structural development is the creation of more and more meaningful opportunities for all students to become involved. More accessible or convenient opportunities for students are part of that approach.

Developing this infrastructure requires new approaches to engaging students as partners. This can happen through the intentional recruitment and preparation of nontraditional and new student leaders. It can also happen with the intentional development of new social norms among the student body, between students and adults, and throughout the entirety of the school community. Meaningful Student Involvement should be assessed for those new approaches to relationships among students, between students and adults, and ultimately, between students, adults, and the education system as a whole.

The desires, dreams, and possibilities students envision for school should be acknowledged, documented and assessed throughout the opportunities, particularly those of students who are not traditionally engaged in conversations about school improvement. Reports focused on Meaningful Student Involvement should be created with multiple audiences in mind, including politicians, policy-makers and other officials, as well as educators, administrators and students themselves. Additionally, significant time should be spent reflecting on who is involved in opportunities. This means students and adults should work together to examine which students participate; why they were involved; what percentage of students in a school were involved, and so forth.

Engaging students themselves in reflecting on the nature of current student involvement in your school, as well as plans or implementations focused on Meaningful Student Involvement. These reflections should also be shared with everyone possible throughout the education system. Their reflections can including benefits and limitations of Meaningful Student Involvement in school planning, education research, formal teaching and capacity development, learning evaluation, systemic decision-making, and education advocacy. Exploring which opportunities students are meaningfully involved in and why those opportunities happen is essential to evaluating and assessing Meaningful Student Involvement. Students should facilitate capacity building activities for students and adults to increase their ability to become meaningfully involved.

Assessments should be conducted by adults, too. They should have opportunities to continuously increase their capacity to meaningfully involve students, and identify limitations and possibilities of Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education. There should also be opportunities for everyone, including students and adults, to assess what the levels of commitment to Meaningful Student Involvement are from various parties throughout the education system. This means that all sorts of students, administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, and other community members should be asked whether they are committed to Student/Adult Partnerships and Meaningful Student Involvement.

Looking across your current location in education, a specific evaluation should determine what opportunities for focused student voice, substantive student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement currently exist. Examining your policies, you should determine whether your classroom, individual school, local district, or state education agency has policies that can ensure or deter sustainable opportunities that meaningfully involve students throughout education. That same examination should determine whether your school or organization can compensate for the budget considerations affecting Meaningful Student Involvement. Ultimately, you should determine how far away your location is from one hundred percent Meaningful Student Involvement. Identify how many students experience meaningful opportunities and how frequently they experience them. When you have determined this percentage, you will know exactly how far you have to go.

There are many ways you can evaluate whether Meaningful Student Involvement exists and is recognizable. Simply allowing students to be involved is one way. Another way to determine existence is to examine classroom learning and determine what extent Meaningful Student Involvement is present in teaching activities. Acknowledging the classroom learning that happens through Meaningful Student Involvement should happen through students receiving credit. Other ways to identify meaningful involvement is by determining whether fiscal rewards, including stipends, scholarships, or salaries, are given to students who are involved, as well.

The quality of student involvement helps determine the meaningfulness. Sometimes, that quality is ensured through policy-making. When appropriate, schools should provide equitable or equal opportunities for students and adults to serve by establishing and enforcing substantive and appropriate terms of office, voting rights, or positions. Contingency plans should be developed to replace students whose terms, service, or job end early, and a conflict of interest policy for appropriate occasions. Policies that formally allow and encourage students to be involved in multiple activities without penalizing them are often necessary, as well as policies that give students appropriate access to adult allies who are involved including teachers, parents and support staff. Students who are involved should be allowed uninhibited access to information sources that allow them to be meaningfully involved, whether through the Internet, adults who are involved in decision-making, records, etc. Schools should also provide opportunities for students to continuously increase their capacity to be meaningfully involved through capacity building activities of all sorts.

One of the key measurements for Meaningful Student Involvement is that every student in every school has opportunities to systematically, intentionally learn about the structures, purposes, actions and outcomes of education. School should be assessed for whether they afford opportunities for students to expand their involvement in subsequent grade levels. Their learning about this should happen in a constructivist fashion, acknowledging what they know regardless of their grade level and expanding upon it through teaching, action, reflection and critical examination.

Students should be allowed and encouraged to address schoolwide issues, not only those that affect students. The language and concepts used in Meaningful Student Involvement opportunities should be adjusted or explained to students in order to create plainly accessible ideas for everyone involved. Students should also have opportunities to learn about different aspects of the activities they are involved in, whatever it may be focused on. If students are partnering with adults to create a classroom curriculum focused on local history, they should have opportunities to learn about curriculum design and delivery, as well as local history. This is true for any aspect of planning, research, teaching, evaluating, decision-making, or advocacy.


Measuring Infusion in Schools

Measuring Outcomes in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org
Measuring Outcomes in Meaningful Student Involvement by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut.org

A large measurement within Meaningful Student Involvement is the extent to which every student experiences Student/Adult Partnerships. While there is a starting point for all action, it is important for schools, agencies, or education programs to have a strategic plan for expanding Meaningful Student Involvement. Ultimately, every student in every school can experience meaningfulness, whether in their individual classroom experience or collective school wide experience, whether in special and specific district or state education agency opportunities, or in broad student organizing for education improvement. All of this should be assessed in order to determine the efficacy of approaches.

The amount of authority between students and adults should be measured. In almost every circumstance throughout schools, students are held accountable by adults. They are held accountable for their academic achievement, classroom performance, attendance, behavior, attitudes and increasingly, opportunities outside of school. However, adults are not held similarly accountable to students. In Meaningful Student Involvement, mutual accountability is essential for partnerships. Similarly, students should experience appropriately and equitably distributed amounts of authority. Considering the specific conditions for Meaningful Student Involvement when determining how much authority students has is important; however, that should not be the determining factor for whether students should have authority. Instead, every situation should be seen objectively for its potential, purpose, and outcomes. Authority—the ability to author one’s story—is something that should be enculturated and codified throughout education for every participant whether students or adults. That authority should be present throughout learning, teaching and leadership as exemplified by Meaningful Student Involvement in education planning, research, teaching, evaluation, decision-making, and advocacy.

Parents should learn about Meaningful Student Involvement too. Their role in supporting, encouraging, sustaining and expanding Student/Adult Partnerships should not be under-acknowledged. In addition to teaching parents, they should also have opportunities to become engaged partners as well.

Opportunities should be assessed for whether they obligate or otherwise compel students and adults to be meaningfully involved. This helps determine amounts of authenticity and generosity, as well as the amounts of time required to build ownership and investment by the participants in Meaningful Student Involvement. These obligations can happen through mandate by education leaders, grant requirements, or agreements between students and adults. They can happen through teacher mandate over students. When policy is set in place, rules are made, or other formalized, codified decisions are written, they can be compulsory as well.

Meaningful Student Involvement necessitates continuous capacity building for students and adults. This may happen through knowledge-sharing and skill building, as well as other means. It may mean providing opportunities for students and adults to co-learn about skills such as communication, time management, project planning, meeting facilitation, budget management, and other skills. It could also mean that all partners learn about school improvement; equity and diversity in education; curricular approaches; leadership issues in education, and other issues. These continuous capacity building opportunities could also focus on topics that are core to Meaningful Student Involvement, including student/adult relationship building; inquiry-based learning; service learning; project planning; curriculum development; teaching skills; evaluation techniques; decision-making methods; and advocacy skills.

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Student Voice Revolution by Adam Fletcher ad 1

Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st Century Community Learning Centers

For more than 20 years, the US Department of Education has been funding a program called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers across the country. Focused on supporting student learning during out-of-school time (OST), the program has a lot of students of color, low income students, and other learners who face disparities in learning, teaching and leadership throughout their educational experiences. This article is about the role of Meaningful Student Involvement in these programs.

This is the logo for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
This is the logo for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers, or 21st CCLCs, are working in almost every state across the country to help students in high-poverty and low-performing schools get more academic enrichment. Focused primarily on providing a safe and supportive learning environments, the 21st CCLCs focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. 21st CCLC also help in other subject areas in schools, including language arts, social studies, heath and art, as well as other topics, too. All of this is intended to improve student learning,

One of the most ambitious aspects of some 21st CCLCs are their efforts to foster student-centered learning. Student-centered learning often includes student-driven interests, personalized learning, and other strategies that place students in the middle instead of educators. There are missed opportunities hiding in plain sight that can enhance 21st CCLCs though, and one of them is Meaningful Student Involvement.

Meaningful Student Involvement is the sustained systemic infusion of student voice throughout education in order to foster student engagement in school, communities, and democracy. Meaningful Student Involvement can be a key to successful 21st CCLCs. Since 2008, I have worked in dozens of schools across Washington state and beyond, including supporting the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the New York State Student Support Services Center as they implement their 21st CCLCs programs in the past. All of my work through SoundOut has focused on Meaningful Student Involvement.

In each of these programs, I have taught educators of all stripes different ways Meaningful Student Involvement can improve their programs. This includes…

  • Meaningful Student Involvement in learning and teaching
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program design
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program staffing
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in program evaluation, and
  • Meaningful Student Involvement in the climate of 21st CCLCs

Each of these has allowed educators in these programs to improve student-driven learning in many ways. For instance, actively fostering Meaningful Student Involvement can empower learners of all ages with the skills and knowledge they need to investigate, engineer, and implement solutions as they create new knowledge and learning for themselves and their peers. Implementing Meaningful Student Involvement to improve the climate of 21st CCLCs can look like embracing social-emotional learning through practical steps reflecting the values and perspectives of schools, families, and communities students belong to.

I have discovered that embracing Meaningful Student Involvement doesn’t always come easily to 21st CCLCs staff though. Despite their best intentions, it can be an uphill climb for educators who’ve never experienced positive, proactive Meaningful Student Involvement to do the same.

That’s why SoundOut provides a variety of tools and supports to scaffold educators’ learning to support Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st CCLCs. Through my workshops and keynote speeches, 21st CCLCs staff can find practical ways of understanding Meaningful Student Involvement, effective implementations of Meaningful Student Involvement in programming, and powerful ways to measure the impact and outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st CCLCs.

Contact SoundOut today to discuss how to bring us to your area for a workshop on Meaningful Student Involvement in 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

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Elsewhere Online

The Guide to Student Voice Advertisement
Order The Guide to Student Voice today!

Student Burnout and Student Voice

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravished K-12 schools across the United States and around the world. After months or years out of physical school buildings, students have been brought back into classroom learning. However, a new epidemic has emerged throughout schools, and it is best summarized as student burnout. This article is about the connections between student burnout and student voice.

Student burnout happens when learners of all ages have had enough. Consciously or unconsciously, they’ve surrendered their will to learn. In response, they have become apathetic about learning and disconnected from school. Student burnout can be obvious or subtle, intentional or accidental, incidental or sustained.

When students throw trash around bathrooms, fight on social media posts, run out of classrooms, or skip school, they are being obvious. However, missing assignments, staring out the window and answering questions with rote memorization instead of thoughtful replies can all be indications of student burnout, too.

At SoundOut, we’ve discovered there is an intersection between student burnout and student voice. Working with more than 500 schools globally over the last 20 years, we’ve found the ability of students to express themselves about learning and schools is key to retaining positive possibilities for education. When students have authentic opportunities to share their knowledge, ideas, opinions, and concerns about education, they stay engaged in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools. When students feel compressed, repressed, or oppressed within schools, they disconnect from the teachers with the best intentions, the classes with the finest honed curriculums, and the most supportive learning environments to be crafted.

5 Steps to Fight Student Burnout

While we continue to move into this post-pandemic reality of educating students in highly compromised classrooms, we should center all of our work on engaging students by empowering authentic student voice. Here are some ways you can do that.

  1. Make space for student voice everyday »
  2. Build the power of students to share their voices »
  3. Network with other educators committed to fostering Meaningful Student Involvement in classrooms »
  4. Engage students with passion-oriented teaching methods »
  5. Consciously foster student voice in your classroom all the time »

If you see the potential and possibilities for student voice to combat student burnout but you’re not sure where to start, contact us today. SoundOut is excited to partner with K-12 educators and schools that are committed to Meaningful Student Involvement — find out why!

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Radical Re-Engagement for Students?

IT IS TIME.

  • We need to re-engage all learners.
  • We need to re-connect students to the love of learning.
  • We need to transform schools in radical but practical ways.

Join SoundOut’s Adam F.C. Fletcher on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 for a powerful, pragmatic, yet radical workshop called “Engagement through Meaningful Student Involvement,” hosted by the Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

Join Adam F.C. Fletcher on May 3, 2022 for "Engagement through Meaningful Student Involvement" hosted by the Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
Join Adam F.C. Fletcher on May 3, 2022 for “Engagement through Meaningful Student Involvement” hosted by the Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Register here »

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SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum

This is the promotional flyer for the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum by Adam F.C. Fletcher.

The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum is the only program written for educators to actually engage students as partners to transform our schools.

SoundOut can empower students to improve learning, teaching, and leadership better throughout K-12 schools today!

SoundOut founding director Adam F.C. Fletcher wrote and piloted this curriculum to teach middle and high school students how to change schools. Based on his work with more than 300 schools across the country, this program shows educators how to build student voice in their schools today.

Features

  • Eight unique modules
  • 200 hours of classroom instruction
  • 24 detailed, practical lesson plans
  • Designed in actual classes with real students
  • Shows students how to…
    • Research schools
    • Plan learning
    • Teach classes
    • Evaluate themselves and their teachers
    • Make systemic decisions, and;
    • Advocate for school improvement

Engaging, hands-on activities are punctuated with fun worksheets, and with a comprehensive teacher’s guide, there are no questions left unanswered. There are also planning guides, assessment tools, and more included.

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Indicators of Student Engagement

In more than 20 years of academic research on student engagement, scholars have constantly tried to identify what reflects student engagement. Some studies have focused on teachers’ reflections about student engagement, while others have fixated on supposedly objective perspectives on students’ time-on-task and other observable phenomenon.

When I became Washington state’s first-ever student engagement specialist in 2000, I conducted a three year action research project to identify and advocate for the active, intentional, and practical engagement of every learner throughout K-12 schools. Since then I have supported more than 2,000 schools in their efforts to foster, expand, and sustain student engagement.

These are Adam F.C. Fletcher's five indicators of student engagement for SoundOut.org.
These are Adam F.C. Fletcher’s five indicators of student engagement for SoundOut.org.

SoundOut’s Indicators of Student Engagement

Following are the the five main indicators of student engagement I have identified through my work with SoundOut and beyond.

  1. Academic engagement is repeatedly choosing connection with curriculum, learning, and assessment within schools. Frequently positioned as “book learning” or “classroom learning,” academic engagement is shown through formal, structured, and specific activities and demonstrated through similar outcomes;
  2. Emotional engagement happens through Social Emotional Learning in classrooms and beyond. Emotional engagement is demonstrated through increased emotional intelligence, or EQ, and isn’t simply attached to curriculum. Instead, EQ is reflected in the interplay between classroom, climate, community, and interpersonal / intra-personal exhibition;
  3. Social engagement is reflected in connections students make through peer-to-peer relationships as well as with younger and older students, teachers and administrators, student support staff, and the broader school community. Again reflecting intra-personal engagement, the social indicator of student engagement is a direct reflection of culture and climate throughout the school environment;
  4. Cultural engagement is demonstrated through the continuous connections a student makes to language, history, dance, clothing, songs, and other types of cultural learning experiences within schools and beyond. Its obvious display isn’t the only way cultural engagement happens; rather, it is through stated, obvious, and demonstrable connectivity that students make their engagement known;
  5. Personal engagement is shown through students’ repeated connections to what matters most within themselves and throughout the world around them; and many other forms of student engagement. This is a largely interpersonal indicator, apparent only in the focuses of learners as they demonstrate interest, show consistency, and practice any given area of personal engagement.

All of these types of engagement happen within schools right now. However, with the exception of academic engagement, they are often treated as coincidental to the schooling experience. Research and practice reflected in literature from the last 20 years shows that quite the contrary, these indicators of engagement are essential for learner success in many ways.

With the breadth of student engagement clearly understood, it becomes easier to understand the rampant reality of student disengagement in schools today. This is what makes it essential to radically rethink how students are engaged throughout the education system.

What do you think of these indicators? I would love to read your thoughts and ideas, so share them in the comments. Interested in learning more? See the links below or contact SoundOut right now!

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