Many people have taken action to foster Meaningful Student Involvement. Learning from other peoples’ wisdom and experience is a key to moving forward in action. Following are some thoughts about taking action.
Not Just Specific Types of Action
These aren’t the only specific types of activities happening in schools today that are meaningful. Given the earlier tools in this guide, the possibilities are unlimited. However, these examples allude to a process of what I refer to as ”engagement typification”, where the roles of students are repositioned throughout the education system to allow Meaningful Student Involvement to become the standard treatment for all students, rather than something that is exceptional.
Not Just Specific Positions
Consistently positioning students as in special positions does not allow adults, including educators, administrators, or parents, to integrate students throughout the regular operations of the educational system. While seeing their peers as school board members is enticing to a number of students, most are disallowed them from seeing themselves as regular and full members of the leadership and ownership of education, or as trustees for their own well-being. That is what differentiates Meaningful Student Involvement from other attempts at student engagement and student voice: By actively, consistently, and substantively positioning students as full owners of what they learn, Meaningful Student Involvement guarantees positive, powerful outcomes.
All of these approaches are tried and true, and assure that student involvement is not just another tokenistic or simplistic process; rather, it is a powerful, effective avenue to assuring learning through school-focused action. Greater goals can occur, too. One of the most important considerations in Meaningful Student Involvement can be the actual implementation of the process.
It is important to remember that if an opportunity has Student/Adult Partnerships at the core, they are meaningfully involving students. If the five elements of the Cycle of Engagement are present—including listening, validating, authorizing, action and reflecting—and are being met repeatedly, an opportunity is meaningfully involving students. If the key characteristics described earlier are present throughout an opportunity, students are being involved. The Ladder of Student Involvement can show how different opportunities can reflect the most meaningful forms of student involvement, as well as the least meaningful. When adult perspectives of students are honestly acknowledged and accordingly addressed, involvement can be meaningful. The Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement should be interlocked and are dependent on each other, and the learning process is essential to implementing effective opportunities.
Important Points About Taking Action
In the late 2000s, the Consulting Pupils about Teaching and Learning project in the UK identified several key points about the people involved in student voice activities, and why they are involved. (Rudduck, Arnot, Fielding, McIntyre, & et al, 2003) Following I have adapted those points to make them relevant to Meaningful Student Involvement.
- Engage Quiet Students, Too. Adults often concentrate only on traditional student leaders who are particularly noticeable or articulate. Unfortunately, this consistently disenfranchises other students who are not that way. Focus on engaging disengaged students and quiet students, as well as nontraditional student leaders.
- Do not Limit Action. Avoid fostering elitism among students. Do not just engage one group of students and empower them as much as possible. Instead, spread out capacity building opportunities and elevate entire student populations all at once.
- Keep It Real. Focus on maintaining authenticity in Student/Adult Partnerships. Students do not value student voice activity after student voice activity without ever seeing outcomes.
- Be Accountable. Sharing data and offering feedback to students is essential for mutual accountability. Students need to know what is happening as a result of what they have done, what is possible and what is not possible given diverse perspectives, external pressures and the realities of schools today.
- Be Open. Trust and openness is a pre-condition of Meaningful Student Involvement. This requires seeing students as legitimate partners with adults. Reassure students that their ideas, wisdom, knowledge and actions are welcome and not simply accommodated, and let them know it is okay to disturb existing orthodoxy.