Measuring the People in Meaningful Student Involvement

Whenever educators, students, researchers, advocates or parents are considering if an opportunity for involvement is meaningful, its essential to measure the people. When we consider the people, SoundOut examines motivation, student readiness and adult readiness, among other factors.


Motivation

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When we think about the outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement, it’s important to identify the original motivation for action. Perhaps the first step is the most important, that the purpose of student involvement is clearly defined. It can be important to identify who declared that purpose, and whether their intention was known to everyone involved. Meaningful Student Involvement should matter in the classroom, throughout the school, and across your district.

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The process of fostering Meaningful Student Involvement at your school affects how it is received. Different people who can foster the engagement of students as partners include students from the individual school who requested it, elected officials such as the school board or mayor, teachers, school leaders such as superintendents, principals, or other administrators. Identifying whether Meaningful Student Involvement was a district/state/federal policy directive can be important, and considering whether it was a response to internal or external challenges facing students in schools.

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Motivation for Meaningful Student Involvement may include the expected or delivered outcomes of the action for students; teachers, principals, or other adults; building culture; the larger community, or; the entire education system. It might also include the history of student involvement in the individual school or district, positive or negative.

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The final motivation to measure is whether Meaningful Student Involvement is part of a larger strategy, policy, or campaign focused on school improvement. Formalization is frequently one of the main political and professional motivations behind school change of all kinds.


Student Readiness

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Ensuring Student Readiness for Meaningful Student Involvement is essential. This can include enhancing the capacity of students to be involved through building skills and sharing knowledge. It can also be through strategic positioning and sustainable Student/Adult Partnerships.

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The first component of student readiness for Meaningful Student Involvement could be to determine whether students where involved in negotiating, advocating, or deciding there was a need for engaging students as partners in their school. It is not a requirement that they were; however, if they were, there may be more student readiness. The next step should reflect how students are be made aware of educators’ intentions for their involvement. Measuring student readiness should show that students deliberately reflect on their learning through involvement, schools, the education system, school improvement, and student voice as a whole.

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Meaningful Student Involvement should reflect what steps have been taken to ensure that the level of involvement is appropriate to the knowledge and ability of the students involved. The developmental needs of students should be taken into account, and skill building learning opportunities focused on the task at hand, i.e. preparing agendas and taking minutes, formal decision-making, problem-solving, action planning, evaluation, task completion, budgeting, self-management, curriculum design, research, community organizing, etc. should be available throughout the course of involvement. Advanced leadership skills should be intentionally taught to students, including how to create teams, depersonalize conflict, and how to learn from the process as well as outcomes. Students should be prepared for routines involved in the activities they are involved in.

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Knowledge-acquisition opportunities should link learning with the task at hand, such as school improvement, supportive learning environments, equity and diversity awareness, standards-based learning, etc. should be available too. Students should learn about the politics and personalities involved, the bureaucratic structures and policy constraints of the education system, and the reasons why students (and other groups) have been excluded from decisions. Also, informal conversations should happen to explain potential underlying reasons for personal conflict at meetings.

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In addition to students’ leadership development, basic self-image and confidence of students should be built according to students’ experience, ability, and exposure. Activities should also deliberately provide opportunities for varying levels of engagement from students as well.

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Adult Readiness

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Students who schools work for often become adults who work for schools. The discrepancy between their experiences in academic success, social popularity, and student leadership do not prepare them to meaningful involve students. Ensuring adult readiness for Meaningful Student Involvement means taking time in order to critically reflect on our experiences as students and look at how we’ve behaved towards students as adults in schools.

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Adults should be aware of what motivates students to be involved, and what students’ experiences of being involved have been. Adults should become fully informed about the issues, policies, programs, services, and/or activities that affect students. Becoming clear on what the need for student involvement is, adults should know who created or advocated for Meaningful Student Involvement—students, adults, or both. Adults should feel fully informed about Meaningful Student Involvement, student voice, and the possibilities and limitations of students’ roles in the activity at hand. Adults should be aware of how many adults are involved in ensuring student involvement in the activity. They should also be aware of how often adults advocate on behalf of students as partners to other adults in the system to persuade them to listen to students by listening to them, returning emails or phone calls, etc. On the flip side, they should be aware of which adults are not in favor of Meaningful Student Involvement, and how they resist, refuse, or deny student voice.

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When it comes to promoting Meaningful Student Involvement, adults should consider whether adults promote the activities in a way that is fun or pleasant; gives positive recognition to Meaningful Student Involvement; and demonstrates adult trust in students. Promoting activities should not marginalize students to a limited role or set of issues in the school, and should show that adults allow students to make mistakes in the course of being involved. All activities should genuinely provide time to listen to students as part of the activities.

When considering readiness, adults should be prepared through training to provide emotional support for Meaningful Student Involvement by paying attention to students’ feelings, demonstrating appropriate levels of caring about their personal issues, helping students with their challenges and problems related to Meaningful Student Involvement, and discussing sensitive topics with students.

Meaningful Student Involvement should create space for adults to offer support for students through suggestions, feedback, critical questions, and other responses to student voice. Students should have a range of options to stimulate their ideas while adults are capable of helping students organize their activities and co-facilitate when appropriate. Adults should be provided timely information, and be presented information in real, concrete terms. (Read more about this subject in Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook.)


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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook written by Adam Fletcher published by CommonAction Publishing in 2017.

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