Truancy and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

For more than 100 years, schools have wrestled with truancy. Anytime students are intentionally late for class, late for school, or skipping class, they are deemed truant by schools. There are a lot of rules and regulations in schools governing truancy. Most schools and school districts use punishments to enforce those rules and regulations. Meaningful Student Involvement can play an important role in overcoming the challenges truancy presents in learning, teaching and leadership in K-12 schools.

Opportunities for Meaningful Student Involvement

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Students can become partners in addressing truancy in a lot of ways. With adults as allies, they can learn a great deal about why truancy happens, what it does and means, how it affects them and their schools, and why it matters so much. In schools and district offices across the nation, students and adults are working together to transform truancy through research, evaluation, planning and decision-making.

  • BOSTON: Working with district administration and their superintendent, the Boston Student Advisory Council (BSAC) investigated why students do not stay in school and became disengaged. BSAC created a survey, interviewed students, collected data and presented their findings to the School Committee. BSAC has combined their solutions with those of the dropout rate research and created a document that is still alive.

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Dropouts and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement
Students and educators in a SoundOut workshop in São Paulo, Brazil in 2014.
Students and educators in a SoundOut workshop in São Paulo, Brazil.

The question of dropping out and Meaningful Student Involvement is challenging. Research collected by a variety of researchers shows that students who leave school early often want to be meaningfully involved in schools. They frequently attribute dropping out to not feeling heard or engaged in their learning, by teachers or from education leadership.


Students face a variety of realities within schools. With large percentages of students graduating on-time, many educators lose focus on students who are likely to leave schools early. Sometimes, systematic discrimination and institutional racism conspire to pushout these students. This happens through harsh punishments, punitive grading and uncommitted student support. Educators trying to control students’ behavior through punishments take away student ownership of their own education, which affects every other part of their schooling and beyond into their out-of-school experiences, too. Instead of pushing out students and causing them to dropout, educators can empower students through Meaningful Student Involvement in order to foster student autonomy, increase their sense of competence, and building their capacity to be in community with others. Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse

Dropouts can also feed into the school-to-prison pipeline.  Its more important for schools to focus on what causes students to dropout than it is to focus on dropping out.


There are challenges to using strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement to meet address dropping out. The dilemma is that a lot of research on student voice is qualitative. With student voice being embedded in a lot of methods, approaches and pedagogies, its effects haven’t been thoroughly analyzed for direct causation. The quantitative, data-driven, longitudinal outcomes of student voice simply haven’t been proven. Instead, its treated as having corollary effects on measurable challenges like dropping out. Research doesn’t really show that student voice directly impacts the dropout rate.


As more schools become committed to student voice, it becomes more important for educators to stay ethically grounded in their efforts. That means deliberately engaging students who aren’t normally engaged in class with dynamic, powerful strategies, and those include Meaningful Student Involvement. Researchers can continue their efforts to measure the significance of these approaches in a variety of ways, including establishing the causative effects of student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement.

In the meantime, educators, students, community partners and education leaders should keep innovating. More can, should, and must be done to engage all students in every school all of the time. By examining the behavior of students, as well as the perspectives of adults and adultism in schools, as well as using approaches like restorative justice in schools, student voice can transform schools for all students.


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Democracy and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Democracy is at the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement. The goal of public schools should always focus on the primary role of anyone in society, which is that of citizen. First and foremost, if you live in a society and contribute to it, you are a citizen of that society, whether that is acknowledged or not.

Students do not have to wait until they are 18 to become citizens, and people from other countries do not have to wait until the government acknowledges their citizenship. Instead, everyone who contributes is a citizen right now, no matter who acknowledges that.

As a citizen, everyone should be able to participate as fully as they can with as few obstacles as possible. Student voice is one avenue for participation.

When they enter the door to schools, students are participating as citizens in society. Their purpose in schools is more than to simply become adults or workers. Instead, it is what W.E.B. DuBois challenged when he wrote, “The ideals of education, whether men [sic] are taught to teach or plow, to weave or to write, must not be allowed to sink into sordid utilitarianism. Education must keep broad ideals before it, and never forget that it is dealing with Souls and not with Dollars.”

Meaningful Student Involvement narrows the broad ideals of student voice and targets students on democracy building in education. Some of the democratic purposes of education include:

  • Discovering—Exploring one’s own abilities and desires, and determining what their abilities are to fulfill their desires.
  • Learning—Deliberately setting about expanding, critiquing and transforming one’s abilities to fulfill their desires according to their own discovery and assessment.
  • Belonging—Joining a larger community of learners, students have powerful opportunities to self-identify who they are, who they aren’t and how they fit into the society they are part of.
  • Purpose—Through discovery and learning, students can also identify what they stand for and what they stand against, what matters to them and what doesn’t, and so forth.

There are many other purposes of education in general, but when it comes to democracy its vital to recognize the powerful, positive potential of Meaningful Student Involvement in schools.


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Tips for Teachers: Meaningful Student Involvement Everyday

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There are simple ways that classroom teachers can foster Meaningful Student Involvement everyday. Following are some of those.

Respect All Students, Everywhere, All the Time

  • Learn students’ names and use them frequently.
  • Show students you’re interested in them through deliberate interactions, thoughtful words and kindness.
  • Teach students about and foster student/adult partnerships in order to flip the traditional passive student role they assume.

Build School Belonging and Student Ownership

  • Students can become meaningfully involved in your class by evaluating your lessons, creating your learning materials, facilitating activities for their peers, co-teaching with teachers, being peer mediators, tutoring younger students or peers, or contributing in other areas. After school student engagement in extracurricular activities, sports and more should focus on belonging and ownership of the learning experience.

Recognize and Share Each Partner’s Worth

  • Challenge students to do their best and share your confidence in their ability to do many things well. Make your expectations clear and give them space to develop their expectations for you. Encourage perseverance, facilitate applied learning and teach critical thinking. When students are ready to take action to improve their learning experience, make classroom learning better, or improve their schools, work through the Cycle of Engagement.

Accentuate Cooperation Instead of Competition

  • Structure classroom learning so students experience feel safe, secure, supported, and ready to learn. Acknowledge individual improvement and group work instead of emphasizing who is smartest, fastest, or most talented. Give recognition freely and compliment individual and group effort without people students against each other.

Teach Student Voice Skills

  • Empathy, communication, responsiveness, teamwork and collaboration and many other skills need to be taught, modeled and stressed. Be aware of and prevent teasing, gossiping, excluding, and other bullying behaviors, which are all expressions of student voice. Have the students role play partners and equity skills; ensure students and adults model the behaviors you want to reinforce.

Teach Problem-Solving Skills

To foster self-awareness and self-control have students use the following steps:

  1. Ask, “What is the problem?”
  2. Ask, “What can I do?”
  3. Make a list of ideas.
  4. Decide which one to try.
  5. Try it.
  6. Ask, “Did it work?”
  7. If not, ask, “What will I do now?”

Foster Skill Building and Knowledge Sharing About Schools

  • Provide opportunities for students to discuss their ideas for education and make decisions regarding learning, teaching and leadership in schools. Learn which skills to focus on and what knowledge to share with students. Establish a classroom action team to engage students’ interests and concerns and promote Meaningful Student Involvement. Build a school climate to support student voice by having students and staff write down behaviors and attitudes they’ve seen that are focused on improving schools, Meaningful Student Involvement and sharing student voice, and acknowledge the identified students.

Help Students Discover Their Educational Strengths and Talents

  • Provide time for students to imagine themselves doing something in the education system that is outstanding and worthwhile. After they set goals for themselves, discuss ways to reach their goals, and brainstorm choices they may need to make.

Model Tenacity, Emotional Maturity, and Healthy Attitudes

  • Be organized, consistent and use appropriate coping skills. Be genuine and avoid embarrassing or using sarcasm with students.

Involve Parents To Foster a Bonding, Nurturing Parent-Child Relationship

  • Help parents see that they are their student’s most important teachers, and that as role models they need to spend quality time teaching, training and exhibiting those habits and values they want their child to have. (For tips on how to encourage such a relationship, see our Parents Tips.)


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Social and Emotional Intelligence and Meaningful Student Involvement

SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Social and emotional intelligence is the way we understand how we feel and act, and how others feel and act. It can be distinctly obvious in Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools... Belonging happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at

What It Is

Some people are more able to understand their own feelings and others’ feelings and use that understanding for good. These skills and abilities can be nurtured and increased, and can affect the experiences of students in schools greatly. Meaningful Student Involvement embraces and can maximize social and emotional intelligence by providing enhancing, enriching experiences for students and adults to work together in empathetic, compassionate ways.

What It Does

When students and adults use their social and emotional intelligence throughout the education system, Student/Adult Partnerships are obvious to outside observers. Respect and safety in schools become just as important as literacy and critical thinking skills anywhere and everywhere, including learning, teaching and leadership. When students feel both physical and emotional safety, school climates become absent of adultism, other discrimination, harassment and exclusion.

How It Happens

Social and emotional intelligence can be innate and nurtured among students of all ages, as well as adults throughout education. Some activities do that better than others, including:

  • Active teaching of social-emotional skills
  • Attention to creating positive relationships
  • Bullying prevention and intervention
  • Community building
  • Overt focus on understanding and appreciating differences
  • Meaningful conflict resolution
  • Teaching students to challenge bias and exclusion

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