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Student Voice in Canadian Education Agencies

Following are a variety of examples of student voice in Canadian education agencies.

Student voice is happening in a growing number of agencies in Canada.

Every province in the nation has a Ministry of Education, as well as local education districts for both public schools and religious schools. These all deal with early childhood education, K-12 schools and higher education. Other government education agencies address specific populations, including Native communities and others.

Local Districts / Divisions

Every province is divided into districts or divisions. Board members or trustees are elected to lead the district. School boards follow their province’s common curriculum.

The Canadian K-12 Education System © 2015 Adam Fletcher for SoundOut
The Canadian K-12 Education System

Ministries of Education

  • Alberta Education
  • British Columbia Ministry of Education
  • Manitoba Education and Literacy
  • New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education
  • Nova Scotia Department of Education and Culture
  • Nunavut Department of Education
  • Northwest Territories Department of Education and Employment
  • Ontario Ministry of Education
  • Prince Edward Island Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
  • Québec Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports
  • Saskatchewan Education
  • Yukon Education

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Citizenship Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

Tools for Teachers
Tools for Teachers

Citizenship education provides opportunities for students to learn the values, ideals, actions and outcomes of shared social, political, cultural and economic lives.

What It Is

The elements of citizenship education include:

  • Awareness: Students are aware of the rights and responsibilities of shared society.
  • Knowledge: Students are informed about the world around them and learn about what matters to the people around them, too.
  • Conscientious: With opportunities to grow their concern about the welfare of themselves and others, students develop their capacities for caring.
  • Sharing: Students develop their abilities to share their beliefs, knowledge, arguments and ideas.
  • Compelling: By exploring their knowledge and conscientiousness, students expand their capacities to influence and change the world.
  • Active: Students can take deliberate actions to create change, make opportunities and explore different ways of being throughout their communities.
  • Responsible: Knowing and understanding their roles in society, students share their capacities in their families, neighborhoods, communities and world.

What It Does

At the center of citizenship education is student voice, which is any expression of any student about anything related to learning, teaching and leadership. Student voice can drive each of the elements listed above, and should be extensively entwined throughout all citizenship education activities.

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Education Reform and Meaningful Student Involvement

Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement (c) 2015 SoundOut.
Learn about the Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement, illustrating how student voice should be immeshed throughout education reform.


Education reform is any effort determined to change what currently exists in schools. Focused on every aspect of learning, teaching and leadership, school reform has referred to testing, curriculum, management, behavior, attitudes, structures, methods, outcomes, buildings, and most of all, the political motivations of schooling.


What It Is

School reform should be identifiable, deliberate work happening on all levels of schools to transform schools. The phrase “Education reform” is often used as a synonym for School transformation, Building redesign, School improvement and many other terms. However, each of these has their own political and social connotations.

School reform can mean changing the climate of schools, the delivery of curriculum, the assessment of students and any other component of learning, teaching and leadership in schools. It can be a strategic, measured and practical action, or a wide-reaching, ill-defined and ill-logical set of disconnected actions.


What It Does

No single activity is wholly reflective of education reform, and education reform is not a recent phenomenon. Instead, its a complex series of sometimes intertwining, often conflicting and occasionally interconnected practices, beliefs, philosophies and theories that have been practiced throughout the entirety of the education system throughout history.


Where Meaningful Student Involvement Fits

All school reform measures can include opportunities for all students in all grades to become engaged in education through Meaningful Student Involvement. These activities can include system-wide planning, research, teaching, evaluation, decision-making, and advocacy, starting in kindergarten and extending through graduation. This includes a variety of opportunities throughout each students’ individual learning experience as well as those of their peers; within their school building; throughout their districts, and; across their states.

SoundOut promotes education transformation focused on Meaningful Student Involvement; supports student voice in schools; and helps educators understand the power of student engagement.

When its most effective, school reform infuses students into ongoing, sustainable school reform activities through deliberate opportunities for learning, teaching, and leadership throughout the educational system. In individual classrooms this can mean integrating student voice into classroom management practices; giving students opportunities to design, facilitate, and evaluate curriculum; or facilitating student learning about school systems. In the Principal’s office it can mean students’ having equitable opportunities to participate with adults in formal school improvement activities. On the state school board of education it can mean students having full voting rights, and equal representation to adults. Whatever the opportunities are, ultimately it means they are all tied together with the intention of improving schools for all learners all the time.


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The Purpose of Schools

In the middle of Meaningful Student Involvement is a picture of empowered students who are fully capable of transforming schools and the entirety of the education system through Student/Adult Partnerships. This is an important concept that illustrates the purpose of schools.

The purpose of schools is to support generation after generation of democratic culture in order to foster whole people, healthy society and a peaceful world. Meaningful Student Involvement is a step in that direction.

However, schools can go even further than meaningfulness.


Further Than Meaningfulness

When adults continuously sustain Student/Adult Partnerships in a classroom and throughout a school building, more happens, including student progression and evolution. As more people throughout the education system increasingly harbor realistic yet growing ambitions for students, it becomes vital for educators to embrace those ambitions in order to successfully facilitate new roles for all students. The goal of schools should be to harbor lifelong learner by graduating self-actualized learners into the world beyond the school building. That can happen at any age.

Recognizing the goal of self-actualized learners enables schools to see the full value of Meaningful Student Involvement creating opportunities for education to be highly successful, and rather than threatening schools, self-actualized learners should be treated as assets to the education system, inspiring others along the way.

In an era of increasingly unfettered technological access, the number of students who are actively choosing to transform their own educational experiences is growing every day. More than ever, students are getting on the Internet and zooming towards any information whenever they want it. Using devices and apps, they are collaborating and debating and pontificating and sharing with their peers in a co-driven experience focused on mutual benefit. Supported by parents who are intensely desiring a better life for their kids, many students today are literally reaching for the stars and beyond. They are calling all of society to be better, do better and become more than what we have ever imagined.

That reality is for the betterment of all of us. Despite the implications for democracy, these self-actualized learners are going beyond any boundaries that were established in the eons before they were born. They are seeing past the limitations and plainly ignoring the barriers previous generations stumbled towards and sometimes over. Students today are not doing this without fault, and they make mistakes. There is no romanticization here. There is, however, pure admiration of the evolving capacities of succeeding generations of students.

Beyond of these evolving capacities, we are witnessing the emergence of purely student-driven, student-led activities throughout education today. Generally speaking, they are not happening within the confines of the education system. However, students are still learning, teaching and leading change throughout education with their actions.

For instance, there are an increasing number of student-driven, student-led student voice advocacy groups around the world today. These are groups of students who are clearly informed by research and literature, but rather than citing it and building projects responsive to research findings, they are creating new pathways to change that do not involve laboring over philosophy and instead focus on action.

When student learning embodies, experiences and engages in the social and political underpinnings of their education, they are more than meaningfully involved.

  • Students understand their own selfhood, its uniqueness and its abilities
  • Students engage in the socio-political construction of their own selfhood
  • Students’ own their class location and self-construction in relationship to their class
  • Students deliberately engage with their class placement, self-driving their view of the world, the purpose of school, other students, their educators, their families and communities.


The Student-Philosopher

There are students who are working on their own to improve schools. One example is from Nikhil Goyal, a student-philosopher who wrote a book about school change when he was still in high school. His book, One Size Does Not Fit All, was published in 2012 and offer his prescription for school improvement. As a high school student, Goyal interviewed Howard Gardner, Seth Godin, Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, and others, summarizing and expanding on their perceptions with his own call to reimagine school. Goyal is an self-actualized learner who is leading his peers and adults throughout society in new conversations about education reform.

The self-actualized learner is a student-philosopher. They shine a spotlight on the roles of students throughout the education system by passionately, actively moving them from being the passive recipients of adult-driven schools towards become passionately engaged and culturally relevant critical allies of the system. In his book, Goyal does not simply lob bombs into the foyer of the school building. Instead, he conscientiously dismantles the building brick by brick, and then systematically rebuilds it according to his own vision for learning, teaching and leadership. Surely, this demonstrates intellectual depth and courage on his part, particularly since he was still in high school when he did it. More importantly, though, Goyal opened portal for other students to do the same. His specific case cannot be said to quite constitute an example of Meaningful Student Involvement because he deliberately operated outside the confines of Student/Adult Partnerships, and completely outside of the formal structure of the education system. However, it does make him a prime candidate as a self-actualized learner, which in turn makes the role he is fulfilling central to Meaningful Student Involvement.

The challenge of the student-philosopher is related to the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement as well. Devoid the accountability necessitated by democratic interaction, the student-philosopher may feel free to lambast people who are accountable to democratic controls in ways that they, student-philosophers, are not. However, this is also the nature of democratic discourse, and something every student should have explicit and substantive exposure to and opportunities to participate in.

Student-Led High Schools

As shared throughout this website, there are stories emerging across the United States and Canada regarding students leading their high schools through Meaningful Student Involvement.

One of the stories was about Alternatives in Action High School, a charter founded in Oakland, California, by students.

Another is the Independent Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

The challenge of student-led high schools is that, if not facilitated appropriately, they may assume student interest and ability in places where there is none. If this occurs and the attempt at Meaningful Student Involvement does not produce the results adults want to see or are comfortable with, this approach may actually enable adults to justly abandon all forms of student involvement. They tried it, it did not work and they move onto something else.

Online Learning

As more students emerge from the haze of adult-led learning, there is a growing urgency for responsive, empowering learning opportunities that meet the needs of learners where they are, instead of insisting they go to where adults want them to be. Since the advent of computers, many technologists have sought to put learning and teaching directly in the hands of young people specifically. Today, that is is becoming reality more and more.

First emphasized for recreation purposes, Internet-enabled devices are now being marketed explicitly for their learning possibilities and connectivity. Students are being encouraged by websites, nonprofits, and private businesses to engage in their own learning as leaders by exploring their interests, abilities and passions, and to use technology to learn far more than any school or teacher could possibly teacher them. In a time when everyone is more connected than ever before, it is no wonder why marketers are selling new devices to students.

More importantly, they are appealing to young people on the premise of learning. Meaningful Student Involvement aligns on this form of the self-actualized learner because both challenge the apparent irrelevance of schooling by situating students as the drivers of learning, teaching and leadership.

Meaningful Student Involvement can be challenged by online learning in a variety of ways. If this approach happens without community building and a commitment to the larger education system, the form of student empowerment and engagement that happens through online learning may serve to encourage self-centeredness and ultimately, narcissism. This can be rectified through Meaningful Student Involvement though, as students deliberately engage in the world beyond the Internet as well as learning through the Internet.

Student-Led Education Activism

Across North America and around the world student activists are calling for substantive and meaningful policy changes in ways unseen before. They are using sophisticated campaign-building techniques, leading community organizing efforts, and driving education leadership to rethink the absence of student voice throughout school decision-making apparatuses on every level of school and in each layer of the education system. These student-led efforts focus on everything highlighted throughout this book and more, sometimes partnering with adults and other times leaving adults out of the equation entirely. This approach aligns well with Meaningful Student Involvement because of its high place on the Ladder of Student Involvement and the significant ways students address the public mechanisms of the public school system.

In the United States, one example of student-led education activism comes from an organization I greatly admire called the Seattle Young Peoples Project, or SYPP.

One potential challenge of this approach to Meaningful Student Involvement is that it happens outside the parameters of formal learning and teaching in schools. Meaningful Student Involvement is not activism for the sake of action. Instead, it ensures that there is a purpose beyond this immediate moment. Engaging students in schools in the work of critiquing, improving, sustaining improvements and critiquing schools again is absolutely vital to the purpose of securing democracy and social justice for all students in every school all of the time.

Schools should always reflect that, and if student-led work of any kind does not reflect that, it is not meaningful.

That said, without the active engagement and ongoing allyship of adults within schools, the purpose of schools is failed. Meaningful Student Involvement of any kind becomes vital in order to ensure that the purpose can be realized. Many of the specific approaches advocated throughout this website are absolutely indebted to this purpose of schools.


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Meaningful Student Involvement Activities

When facilitated effectively, the following examples can move towards Meaningful Student Involvement by helping create a positive school climate, which in turn creates stronger relationships between adults and students, an increased sense of responsibility, increased interest in school and increased success for all learners.

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

Activities for Students as Education Planners

Activities for Students as School Researchers

Activities for Students as Classroom Teachers

Activities for Students as Learning Evaluators

Activities for Students as Systemic Decision-Makers

Activities for Students as Education Advocates

Activities for Students as Learners

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

Student-Led Classroom Evaluations

Student/peer evaluations of classroom performance: Students providing constructive feedback regarding student-led teaching and presentations, as well as behavior and learning attitudes.

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Articles Schools Teaching Tools

Student-Created Courses

When students design courses they might experience Meaningful Student Involvement.

Teachers train students to research, plan, design and evaluate regular courses throughout schools, and students create, lead, or join student/adult partnerships to sustain student-created courses.


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Training for Student Decision-Makers

Training for student decision-makers: All students are engaged in constant and meaningful decision-making opportunities in their own education, school-wide and community issues. Schools train students and adults to be effective and empowered members of decision-making groups.

There are two primary types of decisions students can make as decision-makers in schools.

  • Individual Decisions: These are decisions made by individuals affecting themselves. They include whether to cooperate; how to be motivated; what friendships to have; whether to attend schools; and several more.
  • Group Decisions: Decisions made by individuals that affect groups of people or decisions made by groups affecting others are group decisions. They include representation, belonging, rituals, allies and many more.


Learn how to make these decisions intentionally, effectively and meaningfully is a key to Meaningful Student Involvement in decision-making. This includes learning how to communicate, how to be critical and whether to even engage in decision-making.


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School Needs Assessments

Student-based school needs assessments are student-led, student-driven activities designed to promote student ownership over the school environment, activities within the school, classroom curriculum and climate, and any other aspect of schools and the education system. 

Students voice their concerns and praise on topics including school climate, student ownership and teacher/principal responsiveness.


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Student-Led Teacher Training

Student-led teacher training: Students facilitate professional development for teachers including (but not limited to) service learning, diversity and using technology in the classroom. Students’ teaching is evaluated by teachers and administrators in attendance, and guided by supporting adults.

At Vashon Island School District in Washington, high school students from an alternative school taught teachers in the local, rural district about service learning. Returning from several state-wide professional developments they were encouraged to attend, these students contributed greatly to the teachers’ learning about the topic. In a small city school district in Massachusetts, students led a complex process to help teachers become more effective. After conducting voluntary evaluations of their classes, students provided coaching and training opportunities for teachers to become more effective in their classrooms.

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