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Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change

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Guide to
Students as Partners
in School Change
Adam Fletcher
"Meaningful student
involvement is the process of
engaging students as partners in
every facet of school change
for the purpose of strengthening
their commitment to education,
community and democracy."
Adam Fletcher
Meaningful Student Involvement
Guide to Students as Partners in School Change
Second Edition
Adam Fletcher
Created for
In partnership with
2 Meaningful Student Involvement
Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change
© Adam Fletcher 2005
Created for in partnership with HumanLinks Foundation.
All rights reserved. Permission to reprint or copy the material in this publication is granted only
for nonprofit educational services. This publication may not be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever for commercial purposes without the express written permission of the author except
in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews.
About the Series
This guide is the first publication in a series that supports meaningful student involvement in
school change. For more information, contact The Freechild Project, PO Box 6185, Olympia, WA
98507, call (360)753-2686, or email For more information on our work, see p 25.
Thanks to my family and friends for their love, encouragement, and contributions. Special thanks
to Jessica, Linda, Mike, Libbi, Andy, Jimmy, and Andrea for your thoughtful contributions.
I am grateful for the continuing encouragement and support of the HumanLinks Foundation
and Sue Paro. Our partnership has allowed this to grow, and I’m forever in indebted.
Many thanks go to the middle school, high school, and college students who have reviewed
and contributed to this booklet, including Alison Bland, Nicholas Frazer, Kari Kunst, Shanti
Sattler, Joseph Vavrus, and students of the 2002-04 OSPI co-op programs.
Several other people have contributed a great deal of feedback and suggestions to this
booklet, especially Beth Kelly, Greg Williamson and Nasue Nishida of the Washington State
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Thanks to my mentors and comrades in the field, including Karen Young and Jenny Sazama
of Youth on Board; Kate McPherson of Project Service Leadership; Wendy Lesko of the
Youth Activism Project; Alex Koroknay-Palicz of the National Youth Rights Association;
Terry Pickeral of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship; Chris Unger of Brown
University; Liza Pappas of Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform; and Henry
Giroux of McMaster University.
This work was written from my learning experiences in the education system and in my
communities. Thank you to the people and places that nurtured, taught, supported,
challenged, and sustained me through this journey.
I dedicate this work in celebration of my daughter, Hannah, whose being fills my life.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 3
Table of Contents
Introduction: Students as Partners in School Change...................................... 4
Chapter 1: Elements of Meaningful Student Involvement................................. 5
Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.......................................................................5
Key Characteristics .........................................................................................................6
Climbing Towards Partnerships ......................................................................................7
Measuring Student Involvement......................................................................................7
Descriptions of Student Involvement...............................................................................8
Chapter 2: Benefits of Meaningful Student Involvement .................................. 9
Research-Based Outcomes ............................................................................................9
Impact and Incorporation.................................................................................................10
Chapter 3: Meaningful Student Involvement in Action...................................... 11
Students as School Researchers....................................................................................11
Students as Educational Planners ..................................................................................12
Students as Classroom Teachers ...................................................................................12
Students as Learning Evaluators ....................................................................................13
Students as Systemic Decision-Makers..........................................................................14
Students as Education Advocates...................................................................................14
Student-Led Organizing For School Change ..................................................................15
Chapter 4: Learning through Meaningful Student Involvement ....................... 16
Exploring Grades K-5 ......................................................................................................17
Exploring Grades 6-8 ......................................................................................................18
Exploring Grades 9-12 ....................................................................................................19
Exploring Roles for Adults ...............................................................................................20
Chapter 5: Barriers and Solutions....................................................................... 21
Structure ..........................................................................................................................21
Students ..........................................................................................................................22
Conclusion: Growing Momentum........................................................................ 24
Resources.............................................................................................................. 25
Additional Resources ........................................................................................... 26
Research Sources................................................................................................. 27
Citations................................................................................................................. 28
4 Meaningful Student Involvement
Students as Partners in School Change
Imagine a school where democracy is more than a buzzword, and involvement is more
than attendance. It is a place where all adults and students interact as co-learners and
leaders, and where students are encouraged to speak out about their schools. Picture all
adults actively valuing student engagement and empowerment, and all students actively
striving to become more engaged and empowered. Envision school classrooms where
teachers place the experiences of students at the center of learning, and education
boardrooms where everyone can learn from students as partners in school change.
To some, this vision may sound like a pipedream– but the examples within it are not. In
Maryland a local school board has engaged students as full voting members of the
school board for more than 25 years1. In California a group of students recently led a
district-wide evaluation of their teachers, curriculum, facilities, and students2. In
Washington schools rely on students to teach younger students, their peers, and adults
in most grades across the state.3 The beliefs that inform these activities form the basis of
meaningful student involvement.
Meaningful student involvement evolves from a growing awareness
among students and educators that young people can and should play a
crucial role in the success of school improvement. A number of recent
accounts have featured educators refuting the misconception that
engaging students as partners in school change is about “making students
happy,” pacifying unruly children, or “letting kids run the school.”
Research shows that when educators work with students in schools – as
opposed to working for them – school improvement is positive and
meaningful for everyone involved.4 At the heart of meaningful student involvement are
students, whose voices have long been silenced.
In spite of the evidence, researchers and advocates still find that students are
continuously neglected, and sometimes actively denied, any sort of role in their school’s
improvement programs. Paulo Freire argued that learning must be rooted in the
experiences that students come from.5 School is an example of an experience that
students have in common; and yet, despite experts’ calls for meaningful student
involvement, there is no widespread effort to engage students in school improvement.
As Michael Fullan writes, “When adults think of students, they think of them as
potential beneficiaries of change… they rarely think of students as participants in a
process of school change and organizational life.”6 Meaningful student involvement
authorizes students and adults to form powerful partnerships to improve schools.
This Guide to Students as Partners in School Change is written for students, educators, and
community allies as a concise introduction to a burgeoning movement. The Guide is
meant to encourage students and adults to take action – together. In a time when
“student empowerment” and “democratic schools” are regarded as passé, it is becoming
increasingly difficult to find the substantive theory, models, research, and resources
needed to advocate for student voice. This Guide does just that, and more, by providing
a comprehensive vision for students as partners in school change.
At the heart of
meaningful student
involvement are
students, whose
voices have long
been silenced.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 5
Chapter 1
Elements of Meaningful Student Involvement
Meaningful student involvement is the process of engaging students
as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of
strengthening their commitment to education, community and
democracy. Instead of allowing adults to tokenize a contrived
“student voice” by inviting one student to a meeting, meaningful
student involvement continuously acknowledges the diversity of
students by validating and authorizing them to represent their own
ideas, opinions, knowledge, and experiences throughout education in
order to improve our schools.7
Simply involving students is not inherently meaningful. The
following points explore when student involvement is meaningful
in contrast to when it is not meaningful.
When is student involvement meaningful?
{ When students are allies and partners with adults in improving schools.
{ When students have the training and authority to create real solutions to the
challenges that schools face in learning, teaching, and leadership.
{ When schools, including educators and administrators, are accountable to the direct
consumers of schools – students themselves.
{ When student-adult partnerships are a major component of every sustainable,
responsive, and systemic approach to transforming schools.
When is student involvement not meaningful?
8 When students are regarded as passive recipients in schools, or as empty vessels to be
filled with teachers’ knowledge.
8 When the contributions of students are minimized or tokenized by adults by asking
students to “rubber stamp” ideas developed by adults, or by inviting students to sit
on committees without real power or responsibility.
8 When student perspectives, experiences or knowledge are filtered with adult
8 When students are given problems to solve without adult support or adequate
training; or students are trained in leadership skills without opportunities to take on
real leadership roles in their school.
Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement
Meaningful student involvement is not a magical formula or mysterious bargain with
students – but, it doesn’t just simply happen, either. By following the Cycle of Meaningful
Student Involvement, student participation is transformed from passive, disconnected
activities into a process promoting student achievement and school improvement.
The Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement is a continuous five-step process. It can be
used to assess current activities, or to plan future programs. The following explanations
provide more information about each step.
Meaningful student
involvement is the
process of engaging
students as partners in
every facet of school
change for the purpose
of strengthening their
commitment to
education, community
and democracy.
6 Meaningful Student Involvement
1. Listen – The first step for the ideas,
knowledge, experience, and opinions of
students to be shared with adults.
2. Validate – Students are acknowledged as
purposeful and significant partners who
can and should hold themselves and their
schools accountable.
3. Authorize – Students develop their
abilities to meaningfully contribute to
school improvement through skill-sharing,
action planning, and strategic participation.
4. Mobilize – Students and adults take
action together as partners in school
improvement through a variety of methods (see Chapters 3 and 4).
5. Reflect – Together, adults and students examine what they have learned through
creating, implementing, and supporting meaningful student involvement, including
benefits and challenges. Reflections are then used to inform Step 1, Listen.
Individually, these steps may currently happen in schools. When they do happen, it is
rare that they are connected with school improvement, and even less likely, connected
with one another. The connection of all the steps in a cycle is what makes partnerships
between students and adults meaningful, effective, and sustainable.
Key Characteristics
The following elements are consistently identified in schools where students and adults
commonly agree that there are high levels of meaningful student involvement.
School-wide approaches
All students in all grades are engaged in education system-
wide planning, research, teaching, evaluation, decision-
making, and advocacy.
High levels of student
Students’ ideas, knowledge, opinions and experience are
validated and authorized through adult acknowledgement
of students’ ability to improve schools.
Interrelated strategies
Students are incorporated into ongoing, sustainable school
improvement activities in the form of learning, teaching,
and leadership in schools.
Sustainable structures
of support
Policies and procedures are created and amended to
promote meaningful student involvement throughout
Personal commitment
Students and adults acknowledge their mutual investment,
dedication, and benefit, visible in learning, relationships,
practices, policies, and school culture.
Strong learning
Classroom learning and student involvement are
connected by classroom credit, ensuring relevancy for
educators and significance to students.
Figure 1. Cycle of Meaningful Student
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 7
Climbing Towards Partnerships
As this guide describes, simply calling something “meaningful” doesn’t
make it so. Saying that young people are complex is an understatement;
saying that schools need to be responsive to their complexity seems overtly
simplistic. However, according to the following measurements, many
schools may currently be treating students in a disingenuous, non-
empowering way. Schools should aspire to the challenge William Butler
Yates is said to have written, “Education should not be the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.”
Measuring Student Involvement
The Ladder of Student Involvement in School is designed to allow students and educators a way
to measure situations and activities that involve students throughout schools8. The higher the
rung on the Ladder, the more likely that activity is going to be meaningful to students. This
guide seeks to help schools reach higher rungs by increasing the amount and improving the
quality of student involvement in schools.
Figure 2. Ladder of Student Involvement
Each rung on the Ladder can be applied to a variety of situations in schools. There are
important differences for each type of student involvement that acknowledge a
particular activity’s current position on the Ladder. There are three important points to
consider about the Ladder:
1. The Ladder is not designed to be applied to a whole school at once; instead, use it to
assess individual activities.
Simply calling
doesn’t make it
8 Meaningful Student Involvement
2. There is an active debate among young people, educators, and others about the
placement of rungs 7 and 8. Which is more meaningful? Meaningful student
involvement should build community in schools while empowering students, which
makes activities that students initiate and share decisions with adults most important.
3. The rungs are not a process that happens in order. Activities can go from the second
rung directly to the sixth; sometimes, they’ll be on two rungs at different ends of the
Ladder at once, depending on who is looking.
These considerations are crucial to understanding the potential of this Ladder as a planning
and assessment tool. Students and educators can reflect on the Ladder as they understand it,
and should consider the possibilities of how other people might view their circumstances,
Descriptions of Student Involvement
The following descriptions of Student Involvement describe the Ladder further, calling on
readers to examine student involvement in their own setting.
8) Student-Adult Partnerships. Students initiate action and share decision-making with
adults. Meaningful student involvement is integrated into school improvement at every
level. Students are authorizing with the authority to create change, and incorporated
throughout school improvement activities.
7) Student-Initiated, Student-Led. Meaningful student involvement is propelled by
students and creates opportunities for students to initiate and direct projects, classes, or
activities. Adults are involved only in supportive roles.
6) Adults Initiate Action and Share Decisions with Students. Students are involved in
designing projects, classes, or activities that are initiated by adults. Many activities,
including decision-making, teaching, and evaluation, are shared with students.
5) Students Consulted by Adults. Students give advice on projects, classes, or activities
designed and run by adults. The students are informed about how their input will be
used and the outcomes of the decisions made by adults.
4) Students Assigned to be Involved. Student involvement is assigned by teachers, who
assign specific roles, determine how, and teach students why they are being involved.
3) Tokenism – Students appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice
about what they do or how they participate.
2) Decoration – Students are used to help or bolster a cause in a relatively indirect way;
adults do not pretend that the cause is inspired by students. Causes are determined by
adults, and adults make all decisions.
1) Manipulation – Adults use students to support causes by pretending that those causes are
inspired by students.
The Ladder is meant to inspire action that validates students by authorizing them to improve
schools. When students initiate action and share decisions with adults, partnerships flourish.
Further in this Guide there are examples of specific ways that students and adults can work
together to realize that vision.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 9
Chapter 2
Benefits of Meaningful Student Involvement
Many educators intuitively understand meaningful student involvement and believe that
valuing, validating, and empowering students in democratic learning environments is
important. While intuition is important, the modern climate of education calls for scientific
research to support new approaches to student learning. As a student in Colorado recently
remarked, “We can give you respect. We are able to understand the issues. We can think for
ourselves. It’s our education. If we have a say, it will make a difference.”9
Research-Based Outcomes
A growing body of substantial evidence shows that there are numerous benefits to
meaningful student involvement10. As the following Table 1 shows, the recipients of those
benefits range from individual students to the school system as a whole.
Table 1. Research-Based Outcomes*
Who Does
Meaningful Student
What Is Affected? What Are The Outcomes?
Learning: Academic achievement,
gaps, attendance rates, lifelong
learning, graduation rates.
Greater interest in academic
achievement, gains in test
scores, higher graduation rates,
increased student engagement.
Relationships: Purpose, ownership,
community, engagement.
Higher levels of ownership,
increased belonging and
motivation, identification with
educational goals.
Students and
Adults Practices and procedures: Education
planning, classroom teaching, learning
evaluating, school research, and
education decision-making.
Adults hear new perspectives
about schools; allyship and
partnership become norms;
greater acceptance of programs
and decisions.
Policies and laws: Regulations that
govern participation, funding, etc.
Regular, fully authoritative
positions on committees and
boards; ongoing funding,
development, and support for
student involvement.
Students, Adults,
and School
Systems Culture: Student and educator
attitudes, learning environments, social
Positive and productive
climates; new human
resources emerge as students
share responsibility; stronger
relationships between
students and adults.
*See “Research Sources” on pg 27.
10 Meaningful Student Involvement
Table 1 is not so much a measure of importance as it is potential. It is
meant to help students and educators to see that the effects of
meaningful student involvement reach beyond simply impacting one
student; more so, meaningful student involvement can actually
impact entire schools. When students experience sustainable,
meaningful involvement, school improvement will have greater
outcomes throughout the education system.
Impact and Incorporation
When more people are impacted by meaningful student involvement, there are a high
number of outcomes. Similarly, when meaningful student involvement becomes infused
throughout the life of a school, there are a high number of outcomes. Table 2 illustrates that
when these two aspects “meet,” the outcomes of meaningful student involvement will be the
broadest and affect the greatest number of people.
By matching who meaningful student involvement affects with the outcomes of meaningful
student involvement, educators and students can begin to identify what the purpose of
meaningful student involvement at their school actually is. It is important to note that the
actual impact of any form of student involvement depends on the number of students
directly involved in the activity, the type of activity being undertaken, and the long-range
sustainability of the project beyond the involvement of a particular student or students.
Many students, educators, parents, and other advocates have argued that any form of
student participation is inherently meaningful for students, as if the activity itself holds
value beyond not being involved. However, as Tables 1 and 2 illustrate, the benefits of
moving towards the specific kind of democratic student empowerment advocated for in
this publication are innumerable, and extend far beyond students themselves.
Table 2. Outcome Connections
Greatest Number
of Outcomes
& Adults
Increased Impact
Learning Relationships Practices Policies Culture
Increased Incorporation of Meaningful Student Involvement
The actual impact depends
on the numbers, the type,
and the sustainability of
the project beyond the
involvement of a particular
student or students.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 11
Chapter 3
Meaningful Student Involvement in Action
A particular kind of tension emerges when students begin to realize that the way they learn is
keeping them from what they are actually supposed to be learning. Across the nation schools
are promoting transparent, engaging relationships between adults and students in schools by
engaging young people in designing, implementing, assessing, advocating, and making
decisions about education. When this is done, students become partners, allies, and
companions in school improvement.
Figure 3. Students as Partners in School Change
The following examples illustrate Figure 3 in action, and show how meaningful student
involvement promotes academic achievement, supportive learning environments, and
lifelong civic engagement, as well as many other benefits. These stories from across the
nation illustrate the broad practice of meaningful student involvement throughout education
today, and hint at wider possibilities in the future.
Students as School Researchers
Meaningful student involvement engages students as researchers of the educational settings,
practices, beliefs, and outcomes that they are subject to. When students research their schools,
they can become critical consumers of the institutions that affect them most. In participatory
action research, or PAR, students participate in research design, execution, analysis, and
writing about schools, environments, the teaching and learning process, and more.
Y Students searching for success. A high school principal in Bear Valley, California,
wanted to find out students’ views of learning, so she engaged students as
researchers. As part of the yearlong study student researchers participated in a
course that focused on their work. Consequently, the students became the driving
force in the data collection and analyses.11
Y Financial futures. In Poughkeepsie, New York, high school students conducted
research on their district’s budget crisis as part of a government class. After
designing a survey for students on what should be included in next years school
district budget, student researchers hand-tabulated and analyzed data from 596
completed surveys - over half the student body. District board members then had
12 Meaningful Student Involvement
student-created data from that survey to highlight exactly what students thought
should be included in next year’s school district budget. When the Board of
Education passed its budget for the coming school year, they introduced an
unprecedented line item: $25,000 for “student-led initiatives.”12
Y 700 students sound out. Students at a high school in Denver, Colorado, explored
why many of their peers didn’t graduate. Their goal was, “…to change statistics, and
to make [our]… school of excellence where all students learn, graduate, and have the
opportunity to go on to college.” Their report outlines findings from more than 700
student surveys, national education research findings, and a proposal for school
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
Students as Educational Planners
Meaningful student involvement engages students as education planners by ensuring that they
know what, how, how well, why, where, and when they are learning. This includes students
designing curriculum, planning the school day, co-creating new school designs, or other
activities that build upon their experience, education, ideas and opinions.
Y Working with Teachers. A small middle school in Orange, California, was brought to
life with an exciting project that engaged students as researchers. In addition, the school
decided to take the research to the next step, and invited the student researchers to start
participating in curricular planning meetings. Students planned and constructed
learning units with several teachers, and met with their principal to press for changes in
school rules and militaristic physical education practices.14
Y Moving out of the box. A public alternative high school in Bothell, Washington recently
engaged more than 100 students in a new school planning process. A team of student
facilitators led a school-wide forum, developed a report from their findings, and shared
the report with the whole student body, with teachers, and with the local school district.
In response to their findings, students are invited to join the formal school planning
team, with their findings incorporated in the new school plans, including school
facilities, teaching practices, and decision-making processes.15
Y First grade planners. This program in Cheney, Washington, engaged first-grade
students in developing a curriculum. Their teachers believed that if students helped to
create the curriculum, the class dialogue about this process would shed light on how to
make learning experiences more cohesive and purposeful. The teachers began by
teaching students a unit, and then had students recreate the lesson plan.16
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
Students as Classroom Teachers
Meaningful student involvement engages students as teachers as a way to strengthen students’
learning and teachers’ efficacy. Students can experience a variety of significant classroom
teaching experiences, such as partnering with teachers or peers to deliver curriculum,
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 13
teaching fellow students in lower grade levels, or teaching adults. They also participate in
choosing the activities and content of their lesson plans.
Y Student-Teachers Teaching Students Teaching. 12th grade students at Mt. Pleasant
High School Teacher Academy in Rhode Island teamed up with students in a local
teacher education program to give presentations on educational philosophy to high
school students. The high school students researched important educational
philosophers and wrote personal statements of educational philosophy. The two
groups revised papers together, and were able to effectively critique each others’
research based on what they knew about the classroom. The cooperating college
professor reported that this experience helped dispel stereotypes his teacher
education students had held about urban high school students.17
Y Technology in the trenches. Many schools are increasingly relying on students to
provide training to teachers in a variety of areas, including technology and service
learning. In a program called Generation YES located in Olympia, Washington, students
across the United States are receiving credit for helping teachers learn how to use
complicated hardware and software in their classrooms. An alternative school in
Washington State recently had students conduct an in-service for teachers across their
district on service learning.18
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
Students as Learning Evaluators
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.
Y Evaluating my effectiveness. Middle and high school students in New York City
participated in a student evaluator program for the Teens as School Volunteer Tutors
Project. Together with an adult evaluation facilitator, they decided to interview two
groups of subjects: an adult group made up of school professionals and the tutors’ own
parents and a student group made up of both tutors and their tutees. The student
evaluators devised interview forms, agreed on interview assignments, and drew up a
time line for completion.19
Y Listening in real time. In 2003, high school students in Oakland, California, designed
and collected 1,000 report card surveys evaluating teaching, counseling, school safety
and facilities at three local high schools. They compiled their findings, analyzed the
results, and made concrete recommendations in an exciting, comprehensive report. The
introduction to the report states, “There are 48,000 youth in Oakland’s schools that are
experts – who are in class every day and who have a lot to say about how the schools are
run and how to improve our education… [E]veryone wants to hear from the teachers
and parents - but what about the students? Who asks our opinion? Why do we feel shut
out, like no one cares what we think?”20
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
14 Meaningful Student Involvement
Students as Systemic Decision-Makers
Meaningful student involvement engages students as systemic decision-makers, partnering with
educators to make decisions throughout the school system, from curricula, calendar year
planning, building design, to budgeting, hiring, and more. They join committees, boards of
education, and advisory boards at the local, district, state, and national level. They also work
in their schools with teachers and principals to make important decisions.
Y Old school practice/new school thinking. For the past 25 years a high school senior has
participated as a voting member of the district level board of education in Anne Arundel
County, Maryland. These members vote on all issues, including the district budget.
Also in this district, every advisory, curriculum, study committee, and special task force
includes students, working on everything from grading policies to alternative learning.
Students are members of every local School Improvement Team in the district, with as
many as 5 students on a 10 member team.21
Y NOVA means NEW. Nova opened as a public alternative school in Seattle, Washington,
in 1970. Their unique curriculum offers students the opportunity to learn through
democratic school governance. Committees govern the school through consensus-based
decision-making. Membership is voluntary and includes both staff and students, each of
whom have an equal vote. Teachers serve on one or more committees, and model
leadership skills. Student participation in committees gives them a stake in their
education, and encourages responsibility in their personal lives.22
Y Developing democracy. A public high school in rural Stuart, Ohio, gives students an
equal place at the table when faculty hiring decisions are made, when curriculum is
chosen, and when class offerings are determined. A former principal recently
commented that, “Students often find themselves preached to about values instead of
practicing them. That’s why our efforts have been to focus on practice rather than
exhortation. Everything we do, including classroom teaching practices, school
governance, students’ experience… out of school, assessment, even the organization of
the school day, is done with an eye toward developing democratic community."23
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
Students as Education Advocates
Meaningful student involvement engages students as education advocates to work within the
education system and throughout the community to change schools. Many students
participate in committees, on special panels, and in functions that help raise awareness or
interest in education issues.
Y Project 540. This nationwide program worked with 100,000 students in 14 states to
engage students in advocating for school improvement. The number, 540, refers to a 540-
degree turn, or a revolution and a half, which represents the program’s problem solving
goals. Students come full circle by identifying issues that matter to them and mapping
out resources they can use to improve their schools. Next, they take their schools another
half-turn by developing recommendations for change, which they present to school
officials as action plans.24
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 15
Y No Age Limits. A fifth-grade teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells the story of her
students in her elementary classroom. These young advocates have helped their
elementary school reconstruct its library by researching, brainstorming, fundraising,
giving speeches, lobbying, writing proposals and receiving local, state and federal
support. Their efforts led to brand-new facilities and classes, flexible scheduling for
increased library use, and a comprehensive technology system including a computer
center and computers in every classroom.25
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
Student-led Organizing for School Change
Across the country there is a growing movement being led by students who are working
with adults from their communities and schools to contribute to school improvement by
calling for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice in schools. These student-led
activist organizations use sophisticated analysis, appropriate action, and creative
partnerships to challenge the education systems to become responsive to student voice.
Y Youth organizing for hope. In Wichita, Kansas, a group of middle and high school
students are working through a local youth service agency to create safer, more effective
schools for students in their community. Through a variety of campaigns, students with
the Hope Street Youth Organizing program have worked to find alternatives to
suspensions, end zero-tolerance policies, and implement Black history education. They
have also worked with their local district to create a new teacher-training model and
student satisfaction survey.26
Y South Central youth empowered through action. This organization is located in Los
Angeles, California. By hosting chapters on high school campuses across South LA, SC-
YEA aims to amplify the voices of students in education decision-making. They recently
pressured the local school district to repair and build new schools with a $2.4 billion
school bond, and to add $153 million dollars for additional school repairs previously
overlooked in their community.27
Y The schools we need. A group of students in the Bronx, New York, have decided to start
a school focusing on social justice and community leadership. Sistas and Brothas United
worked to improve their own schools for several years. They rallied and researched, and
as one student said, “[We] got a lot of stuff fixed.” The students are flexing their power in
another direction now as they have begun working with the local school district and a
coalition of organizations to start a new high school, called the Leadership Institute for
Social Justice.28
For more information, links, research, and publications about these and other examples, visit
These aren’t the only types of activities happening in schools today that are meaningful.
Given the earlier tools in this guide, the possibilities are unlimited. One of the most important
considerations in meaningful student involvement can be the actual implementation of the
process. The following chapter outlines some of the activities, skills, and learning connections
engrained within meaningful student involvement.
16 Meaningful Student Involvement
Chapter 4
Learning through Meaningful Student Involvement
Students do not inherently know how to be meaningfully involved in their schools. Likewise,
most educators struggle to figure out how to meaningfully involve students. Meaningful
student involvement requires focused action that allows all participants to learn the potential
of their individual and collective roles. For students, developmentally appropriate learning is
needed to increase their capacity for empowered participation. For teachers, administrators
and school staff, learning is focused on developing the school system’s ability to involve
students as well as individual teachers’ ability to meaningfully involve students in different
kinds of classroom learning opportunities.
The following Tables connect a variety of examples of meaningful
student involvement with the skills needed, and the possible
learning connections. This allows students and educators to identify
their common purposes, and to create the space that both students
and educators need to share knowledge, experiences and
perspectives as both learners and teachers. In order to illustrate how
meaningful involvement can happen throughout schools, each table
presents a different grade level. There is also a table specifically for
adults, illustrating how integral allies are to meaningful student
involvement. The suggested activities and topics described for all participant groups offer
opportunities for reciprocal learning through leadership: that is, adults role-modeling for
students, students role-modeling for other students, and students and adults learning from
each other.
These opportunities also offer the potential to create and sustain collaborative learning
communities where students, teachers, administrators, school staff and community
advocates can continuously learn from each other. Acknowledging that this doesn’t
necessarily happen naturally in many classrooms, several “Skill Building Topics” are
proposed. These topics are meant to serve as complementary building blocks that will
enhance students’ and educators’ ability to experience meaningful student involvement in a
variety of settings.
Meaningful student involvement demands more than time from educators, more than
money from administrators, and more than instantaneous results from students. Instead,
meaningful student involvement calls for efforts to improve the organization of schooling
and the effectiveness of instruction to actively engage and authorize students to transform
their learning communities. The attitudes of students, educators, parents and community
members must also improve. All members of the learning community must see students as
valid contributors to school improvement. The following chapter provides an introduction to
that change, and encourages the reader to envision meaningful student involvement in their
Meaningful student
involvement demands
more than time from
educators, more than
money from
administrators, and
more than instantaneous
results from students.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 17
Exploring Grades K-5
Meaningful student involvement in elementary schools is experiential, tangible, and focused.
Action is based in the classroom, where students work in small groups and gradually build
their skills. Meaningful student involvement requires specific skill building that can lead to
important learning connections for young people. Table 3 illustrates a few examples of
activities where students have been meaningfully involved in elementary schools.
Table 3. Meaningful Student Involvement in Elementary Schools
Examples Skill Building Areas Learning Connections
Planning: Membership on
school improvement
Cooperative Leadership
Project Planning
Identifying Issues in
Teaching: Co-designed,
delivered, and evaluated
lesson plans
Learning Styles
Teaching Skills
Evaluation Methods
Specific Subject Area
Evaluation: Student
evaluation of self and
Critical Thinking
Evaluation: Student-led
parent teacher conferences
Developing Presentations
Small Group Facilitation
Decision-making: Student-
led classroom governance
Creating Consensus
Relational Skills
Advocacy: Supporting the
school library
Active Listening
Problem Solving Communications
Organizing: Student-led
campaigns promoting their
Creating Petitions
Understanding Schools
Democratic Process
Relational Skills
Social Studies
18 Meaningful Student Involvement
Exploring Grades 6-8
Meaningful student involvement in middle schools is experiential and project-based,
emphasizing teamwork and results for all students. These actions encourage students to take
increasing levels of responsibility for improving their schools. Table 4 details activities where
students have been meaningfully involved in middle schools, including specific skill building
and learning connections. Additionally, activities in middle schools span a variety of
activities, transforming adults’ perceptions of student roles in schools. Middle school
students are often engaged in the activities in Table 3, also.
Table 4. Meaningful Student Involvement in Middle Schools
Examples Skill Building Areas Learning Connections
Planning: Full membership
on school committees
School Leadership
Identifying Issues in
Research: Student-
designed Action Research
Research Methods
Identifying Issues in
Assessing Research
Designing Action Projects
Specific Issue Areas
Teaching: Student/Adult Co-
Classroom Planning
Evaluation Skills
Specific Subject Area
Evaluation: Student-created
school assessments
Group Decision-Making
Evaluation Skills
Specific Subject Areas
Decision-Making: Whole
School Student Forums
Event Planning
Identifying Issues in
Advocacy: School-focused
Service Learning
Project Planning
Identifying Issues in
Critical Reflection
Specific Issue Areas
Organizing: Student-
designed school
improvement agenda
Issues in Education
Group processes
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 19
Exploring Grades 9-12
Meaningful student involvement in high schools is experiential, intensive and offers direct
connections between the school and the larger community. Action may happen in longer
duration than in elementary or middle school years. Students lead action and have full
responsibility and authority in many activities with adults acting as coaches that guide
students in a mostly self-directed process of inquiry and discovery. Table 5 shares activities
where students have been meaningfully involved in high schools, including specific skill
building and important learning connections. High school students are often engaged in the
activities from Tables 3 and 4, also.
Table 5. Meaningful Student Involvement in High Schools
Examples Skill Building Areas Learning Connections
Advocacy: Student-created
district budget
Issues in Education
Group Decision-Making
Diversity Awareness
Teaching: Teaching
classroom courses
Classroom Planning
Topic Awareness
Facilitation and
Presentation Skills
Evaluation Skills
Specific Subject Areas
Decision-Making: Full
membership on school
improvement committees
Community Building
Issues in Education
Conflict Resolution
Specific Issue Areas
Teaching: Training for
Issue Awareness
(Diversity, Youth Issues,
Community Needs)
Specific Subject Areas
Decision-Making: Positions
on teacher and principal
hiring teams
Group Dynamics
Issues in Education
Collaboration Skills
Advocacy: Student-led
Forums and Action Planning
Issues in Education
Event Planning
Organizing: Student-Led
Education Conference
Issues in Education
Event Planning
Issues in Governance
Social Studies
20 Meaningful Student Involvement
Exploring Roles for Adults
Meaningful student involvement requires educators, administrators, and other school staff to
be introduced and sustained in their effort to engage students as partners in school change.
Active engagement for all learners is a goal of many educators; however, the ability to
incorporate meaningful student involvement is a learned disposition and skill. Meaningful
Student Involvement also supports adults as they learn to engage the knowledge,
perspectives, and experience of students in diverse education settings.
Table 6. Meaningful Student Involvement for Adults
Examples Skill Building Areas
Planning: Infuse students into classroom,
club, and school planning
Student/Adult Partnerships
Listening to Student Feedback
Research: Facilitate participatory action
research focusing on classroom and school
Participatory Action Research
Student-Led Assessment
Teaching: Build students’ ability to self-
teach and facilitate peer education Peer Education Techniques
Evaluation: Facilitate an authentic student-
designed evaluation process for themselves,
peers, and adults in school
Evaluation Methods
Listening to Student Feedback
Decision-Making: Partner up with student
groups to ensure consistent student
positions on school improvement
Large Group Facilitation
Event Planning
Advocacy: Call for meaningful student
involvement in education planning, research,
teaching, evaluation, and decision-making
Advocacy Skills
Coalition Building
Student/Adult Partnerships
Meaningful student involvement requires a great deal of investment from the students and
adults involved. This is especially true when working with traditionally non-involved
students. The extra consideration given to practically, purposefully, and meaningfully
involving these students can offer particularly strong outcomes, as illustrated in Table 1. The
activities outlined so far offer a variety of exciting lessons and connections to important
learning standards. However, there are very tangible barriers that both students and
educators face in schools. The following chapter considers what those barriers are, and
possible ways to overcome them.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 21
Chapter 5
Barriers and Solutions
Many people who work for meaningful student involvement in their schools find that there
are significant barriers to validating the opinions, ideas, knowledge, and experiences of
students in order to improve schools. While these barriers can often seem like
insurmountable hurdles, it is important to see them as challenges that encourage students,
adults, and schools to grow and flourish in new and exciting ways. Alfie Kohn has identified
three types of barriers to student participation in decision-making in schools29. The following
table adopts these types to meaningful student involvement in general, offering specific
examples, and potential ways to overcome those barriers.
The structure of a school includes the policies, rules, laws, and beliefs that inform the way
people interact within that school. Alfie Kohn notes that school culture “may create a climate
in which teachers do to children what is done to them.” He goes on, “Classroom teachers
frequently protest that they would love to open up the decision-making process but for the
fact that a significant number of decisions are not theirs to give away or even to make
themselves.” The structure of schools also affects students, aside from the actions of adults in
schools. Traditionally, student involvement is an extra-curricular activity that happens before
or after school. Activities have focused on athletics or interest-based clubs or have been token
opportunities for student decision-making, such as planning dances. Another structural issue
has to do with awarding credit and other forms of recognition: Adults generally are not paid
to support student involvement, and students are reluctant to spend a lot of time on activities
for which they receive little or no credit or money.
Table 7. Structural Barriers and Solutions
Structural Barrier Possible Solution
Despite an individual teachers’ enthusiasm
for meaningful student involvement, their
principal denies their request to do an activity
in their school.
Discuss meaningful student involvement with
other educators online and identify who is
successful at it. Seek information and
materials that will encourage meaningful
student involvement in your school. Develop
networks among peers to develop interest
and support with other adults.
Little encouragement, incentives, or
recognition of meaningful student
involvement in school currently exist.
Develop lesson plans to integrate meaningful
student involvement into classes, allowing
students to earn credit.
People themselves can act as barriers to meaningful student involvement. Personal attitudes,
past experiences, and negative perceptions can all serve as roadblocks. Adults do things for –
not with– students. Kohn offers that perceptions of control and a “lack of gumption” may
hold many educators back. “Parting with power is not easy, if only because the results are
less predictable than in a situation where we have control,” Kohn explains. Students also
22 Meaningful Student Involvement
recognize that some educators, in an attempt to appear to be “empowering” actually offer too
little structure in classrooms. Students have also said that adults in schools simply don’t want
to hear them and actively work to suppress their voices.
Table 8. Adult Barriers and Solutions
Adult Barrier Possible Solution
Adults are threatened when they learn from
students that they aren’t doing what should
be done. They might also feel threatened
dealing with the ideas, opinions, knowledge,
and experiences of students.
Adults should learn new roles, language &
behaviors in order to “walk the talk.” Reading
about meaningful student involvement and
being trained in Student/Adult Partnerships
can help.
Adults assume that they easily understand
the attitudes and challenges of students
Students could offer workshops for adults on
their cultures, heritages, and backgrounds.
Students can also create “tip sheets” and
other tools for teachers.
After years of being told, “It’s better to be seen and not heard,” it’s no wonder why students
may be reluctant to be meaningfully involved in schools. Alfie Kohn notes that there are
three primary types of student resistance. The first is simply refusing: "That's your job to
decide," students may protest. The second is testing: offering outrageous suggestions or
responses to see if the teacher is really serious about the invitation to participate. The third is
parroting: repeating what adults have said or guessing what this adult probably wants to
hear. A fifth-grader asked to suggest a guideline for class conduct may recite, "We should
keep our hands and feet to ourselves.”
Table 9. Student Barriers and Solutions
Student Barrier Possible Solution
Students feel that they are being pushed to
be involved and do not like it.
Adults can integrate meaningful student
involvement into classroom activities, offering
students an opportunity to experience
learning without additional commitment.
Students are inhibited when adults are
involved in discussions.
Create a “safe space” for an open discussion
about stereotypes that adults and youth have
of each other. Continue to have check-ins
that allow students and adults to share their
honest thoughts with one another.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 23
There are dozens of very real challenges that face advocates for meaningful student
involvement from both adults and students. Most of those barriers fit accordingly into
the above sections; some do not. A student named Danesia Robinson of Oakland,
California recently reflected on how students in her high school are working to change
the low expectations of adults, saying,
Go to the district and make a change, you say, but you gotta be prepared to take
the responsibility of making that change. It's not easy to make a change. You
gotta stick to it. And oftentimes, as youth, we feel that we can't do it, so we just
give up.
...Facts, you need facts. You need to be educated on what [the administration is]
doing, because you can't just go up to somebody and not know what you're talking
about. You gotta keep going to meetings and not let anybody run over you. You
gotta be willing to study the information, you gotta be willing to survey, you gotta
be willing to ask people about it. You gotta understand. 30
Adult allies have an important role in assisting students to become engaged as partners in
school change. Meaningful student involvement demands their participation. But students
are equally charged with being willing to change schools. And both students and adults have
to work together to overcome the systemic barriers that keep everyone from moving forward
with inclusive school improvement.
It is easy to assume that barriers will stop activities, especially when everyone at the table
lacks commitment to meaningful student involvement. However, the above illustrations of
possible solutions show that through intentional facilitation and guidance, students, adults,
and the structure of schools can change. The significance of meaningful student involvement
is greatly increased when barriers are overcome. This Guide explores that significance.
24 Meaningful Student Involvement
Growing Momentum
Every school in the country is focused on the question of how to improve student
achievement in every content area and in every grade level. Each day, in schools with all
types of individual challenges, educators use the diverse tools of school improvement to help
make progress for students. While these tools often cite involvement as a key component of
school improvement, that idea has rarely included students. For the sake of the future of
education, it is time for students to be more than heard, and it is time for schools to take
action. It is time for students to be partners in school change. It is time for meaningful
student involvement.
The work of meaningful student involvement is not easy or
instantaneously rewarding. However, in a time when the success of
individual students is being leveraged against funding for schools, it is
essential to go beyond students planning school dances and leading
mock elections. Those activities may actually have negative effects on
students. However, there are real and substantial challenges. Despite
the various types of meaningful student involvement outlined here,
there is no finite model for engaging every student that can be adopted
by all schools. What will be appropriate for one school might not
succeed in another. Meaningful student involvement is part of a transformative cycle that
should be continually re-examined, redeveloped and reconceived within each learning
community as it evolves over time with new participants. The potential outcomes are too
great to ignore the possibilities.
This guide characterizes meaningful student involvement and its usefulness as a strategic
process for improving the quality and quantity of student engagement. By making
knowledge relevant to students’ lives and providing supportive learning environments in
which all participants can grow, meaningful student involvement provides innumerable
positive outcomes for all members of the education community. Most importantly,
meaningful student involvement shows that schooling can be a powerful, positive and
motivating force when it respects and values the contributions of each and every student.
Ultimately, meaningful student involvement transcends schools. In a time when the health
of our nation’s democracy is at stake, everyone must reconsider their individual role in
society. Research and experience illustrates that people who have been meaningfully
involved when they are young are most likely to be informed citizens who are engaged
throughout their communities. As partners in school change, students are virtually ensured
this positive, powerful, and productive future. The complex leadership skills and applied
learning that all students can experience through meaningful student involvement serve as
vital components in any education system and society that calls for a more engaging,
sustainable and just democracy.
The intentional
participation of diverse
students in relevant,
relationships with
adults is essential to
facing the disparities in
our schools.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 25
Resources An online resource center promoting meaningful student involvement in
school change. There are exciting examples, powerful research studies, effective
classroom tools, and dozens of other resources from around the world. You can find
extensive reading lists, including every source document included in this guide, as well
as an online discussion forum with students and educators from around the world and a
monthly newsletter. c/o The Freechild Project, PO Box 6185, Olympia,
WA 98507. Email: Web:
The booklet in your hands is the first of a series that is intended for broad audiences to
understand meaningful student involvement. All booklets in this series are available
free on our website, along with other resources. The series includes:
Meaningful Student Involvement: The Guide to Students as Partners in
School Change – A broad introduction to meaningful student
involvement, including a brief introduction, a description of the benefits
to schools, several short stories of action, and useful assessment tools for
your classroom or school, including the popular Ladder of Student
Involvement and the Cycle of Meaningful Student Involvement.
Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement – This is an inspiring
collection of anecdotes based on dozens of reports. This booklet features
short reports of Meaningful Student Involvement happening in
classrooms and schools around the world. The stories include students as
education planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and
Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide – The extensive
reviews in this booklet can help advocates get a "leg up" in the research
race in schools. This booklet provides the details of fifteen of the foremost
research studies that examine various facets of Meaningful Student
Meaningful Student Involvement Resource Guide – This booklet
provides a range of support for Meaningful Student Involvement
advocates and practitioners. There is a short literature review that
introduces readers to the wide array of tools available, as well as a
comprehensive listing of organizations and websites that support various
aspects of Meaningful Student Involvement.
26 Meaningful Student Involvement
Additional Resources
At The Table Initiative. The At the Table initiative aims to promote youth governance
in schools and communities across the United States. Their website features a resource
catalogue, success stories, a calendar of events, and “What’s At The Table,” a resource
collection. They also feature organizations committed to youth involvement and youth
voices. Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development, 6930 Carroll
Avenue, Suite 502, Takoma Park, MD 20912.
Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform. A national network of school
reformers who support efforts to create high-quality schools that ensure educational
success for all urban young people. They have a special focus on student action that is
taking root through several local programs and partnerships, supporting advocates who
want to work directly with youth on issues of school reform. 407 South Dearborn Street,
Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60605.
ESRC Network Project: Consulting Pupils About Teaching and Learning. This
program, based at Cambridge University in the UK, has a variety of aims, among which
is seeking to integrate a theory of teaching, learning and attainment with a theory of
student voice and participation in school change. Their information includes useful
publications that document research findings and conference proceedings, among other
Forum for Youth Investment. This organization has gathered several years' experience
in youth development and education reform to design a youth-centered vision of
schooling. They identified five areas, including Climate, Instruction & Curriculum,
Connections, Outcomes, and Engagement. Their material explores this vision and offers
new insights for school improvement. 7064 Eastern Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20012.
Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. This group of charitable foundations
supports youth organizing for community change, including education. They have
funded dozens of projects and publications that highlight the backgrounds, activities,
and outcomes of youth organizing. 330 Seventh Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, NY
What Kids Can Do. This organization documents the value of young people working
with teachers and other adults on projects that combine powerful learning with public
purpose. They have several projects promoting student voice and action, including
"Students as Allies," “Students Push for Equity in School Funding,” and more. Their
materials include webpages and publications created by students and adults dedicated
to student voice. P.O. Box 603252, Providence, RI 02906.
Youth On Board. This program prepares youth to be leaders and decision makers in
their schools and strengthens relationships between youth and adults through
publications, customized workshops, and technical assistance. 58 Day Street Somerville,
MA 02144.
Guide To Students As Partners In School Change 27
Research Sources
The following publications and articles introduce the research available in several areas
supporting meaningful student involvement. For more information and research, visit
Brennan, Marie. 1996. Schools as public institutions: Students and citizenship. Youth Studies
Australia. 151 24-27.
Klein, Reva. 2003. We want our say: Children as active participants in their education. Sterling, VA:
Levin, Barry. 1999. Putting students at the centre in education reform. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
Rudduck, Jean & Flutter, Julia. 2004. How to improve your school: Giving pupils a voice. New York:
Dean, L. & Murdock, S. 1992. Effect of voluntary service on adolescent attitudes toward learning.
Journal of Volunteer Administration 104: 5-10.
Rubin, B. & Silva, E. Eds. 2003. Critical voices in school reform: Students living through change. New
York & London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Delpit, Lisa. 1988. The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s
children. Harvard Education Review, 58: 280-298.
McLaren, Peter. 1989. Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of
education. New York: Longman.
Wilson, B. and Corbett, H. D. 2001. Listening to urban kids: School reform and the teachers they want.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Practices and Procedures
Cervone, B. & Cushman, K. 2002. Moving youth participation into the classroom: Students as
allies. New Directions for Youth Development. 96: 83-100.
Cushman, Kathleen. 2003. Fires in the bathroom: Advice for teachers from high school students. New
York: The New Press.
Kordalewski, John. 1999. Incorporating student voice into teaching practice. ED440049. Retrieved
3/14/03 from
Policies and Laws
Critchley, Stanley. 2003. The nature and extent of student involvement in educational policy-
making in Canadian school systems. Educational Management & Administration. 311: 97-106.
Levin, Barry. 1994. Educational reform and the treatment of students in schools. Journal of
Educational Thought 281.
Marques, Elder. 1999. Youth involvement in policy-making: Lessons from Ontario school boards, Policy
Brief 5. Ottawa, ON: Institute on Governance.
Fielding, Michael. 2001. Students as radical agents of change. Journal of Educational Change 23: 123-
Freire, Paulo. 1998. Pedagogy of freedom: Hope, democracy and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers Inc.
Zeldin, S., Kusgen-McDaniel, A., Topitzes, D. and Calvert, M. 2000 Youth in decision-making: A
study on the impacts of youth on adults and organizations. Retrieved 3/14/03 from
28 Meaningful Student Involvement
1 Fletcher, A. 2004. Total infusion: District scores 100% on student involvement in decision-making.
Retrieved 11/4/04 from
2 REAL HARD. 2003. Student Voices Count: A Student-Led Evaluation of High Schools in Oakland.
Retrieved 11/4/04
3 Harper, D. 1996. Students as change agents. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
4 See “Research Sources” on page 27, or read Fletcher, A. 2004. Meaningful Student Involvement Research
Guide. Bothell, WA: HumanLinks Foundation. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
5 Freire, P. 1998. Teachers as Cultural Workers. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. See “Fifth Letter.”
6 Fullan, M. 1991. The New Meaning Of Educational Change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
7 The concept of “authorizing” was coined in Cook-Sather, A. 2002. Authorizing students' perspectives:
Toward trust, dialogue, and change in education. Retrieved 2/18/03 from
8 The “Ladder of Student Involvement” is adapted from Hart, R. 1994. Children’s Participation: From
Tokenism to Citizenship. London: Earthscan. Other research substantiating this continuum includes
Fielding, M. 2001; and Rudduck, J. & Flutter, J. 2004.
9 Forum for Youth Investment. (nd). Holding schools accountable: Students organizing for educational
change. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
10 See “Research Sources” on page 27.
11 Kushman, J. & Shanessey, J. 1997. Look Who's Talking Now: Student Views of Restructuring Schools.
Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. See Chapter Three.
12 What Kids Can Do. 2003. Students Push for Equity in School Funding. Retrieved 7/1/03 from
13 Jovenes Unido. 2004. North High School Report: The Voices of Over 700 Students. Retrieved 5/5/04 from
14 SooHoo, S. 1993. Students as Partners in Research and Restructuring Schools. The Educational Forum.
57 386-393.
15 Fletcher, A. n.d. Students speak out: How one school opens the doors to meaningful student
involvement. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
16 Nelson, J. & Frederick, L. 1994. Can kids design curriculum? Yes! Education Digest, 59 8. April, 42-43.
17 Berrigan, A. & Schwartz, S. 2000. Urban Teacher Academy Project Toolkit: A Guide to Developing
High School Career Academies. Washington, DC: Council of the Great City Schools.
18 Author interview with D. Harper August 21, 2003.
19 Campbell, P., Edgar, S., Halsted, A. October 1994. Students as evaluators: A model for program
evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan. 160-165.
20 See footnote 2.
21 Author interview with S. Hannahs August 14, 2003.
22 Author interview with E. Packard March 13, 2004.
23 Rural School and Community Trust. 1999. Ohio student tell West Virginia that ‘Kids Can.’ Retrieved
11/4/04 from
24 Project 540. 2004. Students Turning Into Citizens: Lessons Learned from Project 540. Providence, RI:
Providence College.
25 Lewis, B. 1992. Kids with Courage: Stories of Young People Making a Difference. Minneapolis: Free Spirit.
26 Hope Street Youth Activism. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
27 South Central Youth Empowered for Action. Retrieved 11/4/04 from
28 What Kids Can Do. 2003 The Schools We Need: Creating Small High Schools That Work For Us. Retrieved
7/1/03 from
29 Kohn, A. 1993. Choices for children: Why and how to let students decide. Retrieved 7/13/03 from
30 What Kids Can Do. (2004). Tough Talk About Student Responsibility. Retrieved 11/11/04 from
Supporting Organizations
The Freechild Project partnered with the
HumanLinks Foundation to create this publication
and its accompanying website, -
promoting meaningful student involvement in
school change.
The Freechild Project
PO Box 6185
Olympia, WA 98507
Phone: 360.753.2686
Freechild was founded in 2000 as a youth-driven
training ground, think tank, resource agency,
and advocacy group for young people seeking to
play a larger role in their schools and communities.
Freechild offers training and consultation in many
areas, including school improvement, program
development, and community building. Our
website is a worldwide resource center for social
change by and with young people that includes
a diverse listing of information around youth
empowerment, including everything from activist
learning to youth suffrage, and several free
publications on youth leadership, cooperative
games and more.
HumanLinks Foundation
PMB 160
6830 NE Bothell Way Suite C
Kenmore, Washington 98028
The HumanLinks Foundation was established in
1999 to help communities in Washington State
make systemic improvements in Education, Health
Care and Sustainable Agriculture. HumanLinks
strives to strengthen voices and connections to
make these essential systems more effective and
responsible. HumanLinks develops partnerships
that leverage resources in new ways to blend
values, ideas, information and best practices.
About the Author
Adam Fletcher is the founder and director
of The Freechild Project, a youth-driven
think tank that offers training, research and
consultation to schools and community-
based organizations across the United States
and Canada. Mr. Fletcher’s work has
included several years in community-based
youth organizing and development, as well
as working for the Washington State Office
of Superintendent of Public Instruction to
promote meaningful student involvement
throughout the education system.
Supported by is a resource center
designed support meaningful student
involvement in school change.
The website includes exciting examples
from schools across the nation, as well as
powerful research, free publications,
important links, and vibrant online
discussion forums where students and
educators share stories and strategies
with others across the United States.
... Student participation is the students' views of learning experience and their conscience on it Flutter & Rudduck (2004), their behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004;Rotgan & Schmidt, 2011), students' involvement in the curriculum design, classroom management and school building climate (Fletcher, 2005). ...
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This study is a cross-sectional study and finds out class participation as an essential indicator in elevating the performance of the students. It explored the factors affecting the degree of class participation and its effect on science performance. Students of grade IX were selected as the sample for the study. In addition to a structured, self-administered questionnaire, the mid-term exam result was taken as an academic performance of the students. Appropriate inferential statistical tests, like t-test and Pearson's Product Moment Correlation were computed to find the gender differences in class participation and academic performances of the students and their relationship respectively. Further, an Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) was performed to explore factors affecting the class participation. The inferential statistics results indicated that while there is no statistically significant difference between the class participation and academic performance in science by gender, there does exist a positive association between class participation and academic performance. The EFA results revealed three principal factors responsible for varying degree of class participation, namely the students' affective traits, students' cognitive traits and teachers' traits.
... 6 Various initiatives by health professional students have been described for advancing institutional change, 7 highlighting the importance of meaningful student involvement in engaging future healthcare providers in becoming educational partners and advocates for planetary health. 8 As a first step towards incorporating a planetary health curriculum within medical education, organisations such as the Health and Environment Adaptive Response Taskforce (HEART) have created a set of planetary health competencies to provide a framework for subsequent curricular development. 9 10 A recent scoping review found that environmental competencies within nursing, medicine and pharmacy fit in well with previously validated healthcare competencies of resource stewardship, systems thinking, and social and environmental justice. ...
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Introduction Despite climate change being recognised as the greatest health threat of the 21st century, current medical education curricula do not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis. Preparing for climate-related health repercussions requires educational institutions to disseminate planetary health knowledge in a systematic way. We sought to evaluate the extent of the literature on the inclusion of planetary health in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education to guide curricular development. Methods and analysis A scoping review is being undertaken with a search strategy developed with a health sciences librarian. The search strategy was run on the following databases from inception to 22 June 2021: Medline, Embase, APA PsycINFO, CINAHL, Global Health, Scopus. This scoping review is being conducted as per methodology that has been previously outlined. Studies that discuss the implementation of planetary health education within undergraduate and postgraduate medical education will be included, whether they discuss formal inclusion or supplemental courses. To supplement our database search, data from the Health and Environment Adaptive Task Force’s National Report on Planetary Health Education, the Planetary Health Report Card and the Association for Medical Education in Europe Consensus Statement on Planetary Health and Education for Sustainable Healthcare will be included. As we anticipate varying methodologies, the data analysis will consist of both a quantitative and a qualitative component. Outcomes will be categorised within the domains of the Planetary Health Education Framework, which incorporates concepts of systems thinking, social justice and interconnection within nature as they apply to education for planetary health. Ethics and dissemination As no intervention or patient recruitment will be required, research ethics board approval is not applicable. We plan to disseminate our results via publication in a peer-reviewed journal or conference presentation. Trial registration number This protocol has been registered in Open Science Framework (10.17605/OSF.IO/7M6GZ).
... Questi risultati sono in sintonia con quelli ottenuti da molti altri ricercatori focalizzati sulla voce degli studenti che evidenziano l'importanza dei processi partecipativi che coinvolgono studenti e scuole (Bourke & Loveridge, 2018;Fletcher, 2005;Sharma-Brymer et al., 2018). Particolare attenzione è data all'apprendimento interculturale e allo sviluppo di un'etica dell'alterità e della cura, basata su processi auto-riflessivi e intersoggettivi e costruita sull'interazione con gli altri (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2005;Diaz-Aguado, 2004;Fleuri, 2003;Loo et al., 2019;Meunier, 2014;Rego et al., 2007). ...
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This is a multi-level study in the field of intercultural education and refers to a project called “The voice of students”. The cases are action research projects developed with a group of primary school students. They participated in dialogical processes and shared leadership with their teachers. They co-designed projects, debated and became aware of critical issues related to cultural diversity in their educational communities. The aim of the research is to analyze participatory processes and associated changes in relation to intercultural education and relational structures that have emerged from students’ thoughts. From the data analysis it emerged that students’ personal changes, such as self-awareness and attention to others and relationships, group changes such as cohesion, as well as changes developed to other actors: teachers, other students they have created relationships of collaboration, solidarity, and mutual recognition. There were visible changes during the busiest time of the projects, but sometimes the effects continued and deepened thereafter. This underlines the importance of participatory projects of children engaged in intercultural processes and change. La voce degli studenti. Il presente contributo presenta uno studio a più livelli nel campo dell’educazione interculturale e fa riferimento a un progetto denominato “La voce degli studenti”. I casi sono progetti di ricerca-azione sviluppati con un gruppo di studenti della scuola primaria. Hanno partecipato a processi dialogici e hanno condiviso la leadership con i loro insegnanti. Hanno co-progettato progetti, dibattuto e preso coscienza di questioni critiche legate alla diversità culturale nelle loro comunità educative. Lo scopo della ricerca è analizzare i processi partecipativi e i cambiamenti associati in relazione all’educazione interculturale e alle strutture relazionali emerse dai pensieri degli studenti. Dall’analisi dei dati è merso che i cambiamenti personali degli studenti, come la consapevolezza di sé e l’attenzione agli altri e alle relazioni, i cambiamenti di gruppo come la coesione, così come i cambiamenti estesi ad altri attori: insegnanti, altri studenti, hanno creato relazioni di collaborazione, solidarietà e riconoscimento reciproco. Ci sono stati cambiamenti visibili durante il periodo più attivo in cui si sono svolti i progetti, ma a volte gli effetti sono continuati e si sono approfonditi in seguito. Ciò sottolinea l’importanza dei progetti partecipativi dei bambini impegnati nei processi interculturali e nel cambiamento.
... As CYP and their families are end users of prevention and intervention approaches introduced in educational settings, their voice is, therefore, acknowledged as being critical for contemporary investigations into any phenomenon affecting them, but especially for understanding the phenomenology of CYP's lived experiences such as C/B (Price et al., 2014;Spears et al., 2009). Fletcher (2005) suggested that when CYP engage meaningfully, their role shifts to become "change partners with, and allies of the adults in the school setting, becoming not merely informants, but the planners, teachers, researchers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates" (p. 11). ...
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Youth voice is acknowledged as being critical for any investigation into children and young people’s (CYP) lived experiences but is particularly important for the field of cyberbullying (Cb), where technology and social media have transformed traditional bullying into behaviors which operate across both online and offline settings. The significant social and economic costs of both cyber and traditional bullying (C/B) to CYP’s health, wellbeing, academic achievement, relationships, and quality of life are well documented quantitatively, however qualitative studies, which capture the voice of the individual, and lived reality of the social contexts and experiences, remain limited. This paper presents one of the first qualitative meta-studies in this research area and models the feasibility and potentiality of this methodological approach to: (1) facilitate the synthesis of discrete qualitative studies concerning youth voice and co-participatory research practices, and (2) subsequently inform and extend methodological knowledge in the cyber/bullying (C/B) and youth wellbeing domains. The convergences/differences, ethical considerations, enablers, challenges, affordances, and limitations of five of the authors’ studies concerned with youth voice and co-participatory research methodologies are analyzed and synthesized to create new collective meanings and understandings. In doing so, this paper demonstrates a transdisciplinary and transformative approach: where new knowledge and unity of understanding is created which extends beyond each unique study and the discipline and domain in which it is situated. Findings from the meta-study indicate that providing youth with opportunities to shape research at all stages can empower them to design authentic preventative approaches directly relevant to their context and experiences, whilst simultaneously developing critical research and inquiry skills. This paper highlights the imperative for researchers to empower CYP as co-researchers and embrace them as change partners, simultaneously acknowledging the challenges this presents, including the shift in power of the researcher’s role which occurs. It also provides a warrant for employing meta-study approaches to discrete qualitative studies to inform and extend broader research and methodological agendas.
... The advancement of learners' education which is concerned with the cycle of instruction and educational activity additionally impacts students' retention and will ultimately affect educational results and students' quality (Roberts and McNeese, 2010;Wang and Guan, 2020). Fletcher (2003) mentioned six factors with regard to students' involvement. First, educational involvement ought to be capable of building students' intricate abilities. ...
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Founded on the advent of Positive Psychology in recent decades, the learners’ involvement has been a critical issue since the origin of teaching and learning despite it being quickly developed in previous decades. The enhancement of motivational aspects like self-efficacy and interest appears to have a high impact on learners’ success and achievement. Although both constructs are extensively investigated in various subjects, their association between and the learners’ involvement in the process of language learning have not been taken into account so far. This review intended to scrutinize the association among students’ self-efficacy, their academic interest, and their involvement. It is significant to pinpoint that the current review can help educational administrations, professional improvement centers, and policymakers to consider the above-mentioned issues in the progression of language education to develop their involvement.
... 37) and outline various methods to approach collaborative work with students and staff which includes co-creation of content. Similarly, Fletcher (2005) states that meaningful engagement from students happen when they are enabled to become active partners in education rather than passive recipients. Encouraging student involvement in teaching and content co-creation may also bridge the intergenerational gap that often exists in formal higher education settings, with Sanchez and Kaplan (2014) discussing the value of multigenerational teaching teams for developing more collaborative and inclusive learning spaces. ...
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The aim of this study is to discuss how foreign language learning can prepare students to be successfully integrated into the job market and to bridge the gap that the literature review reveals in this scientific field. This research adopts a qualitative methodological approach which enables to identify key factors for employment success. Data were collected from a closed-ended questionnaire, aimed at organizations from different sectors in the Autonomous Region of Madeira. The results reveal that employers highly value social and interpersonal competencies, communication skills and foreign language proficiency. The results also suggest that foreign language proficiency plays an important role in the recruitment process, as it increases the applicants’ probability of recruitment. Moreover, this study concludes that English for Specific Purposes (ESP) needs to be introduced as a subject at the college level. This research allows identifying the main skills required by employers when recruiting employees and contributes to assessing the current needs of regional organizations. Keywords: Foreign Languages, Education, Employability, English For Specific Purposes.
This study explores student voice practice from a student’s viewpoint. Within England, United Kingdom (UK) student voice initiatives can manifest themselves in many ways, for example: surveys, councils, governors, representative groups, committees and student bodies such as the National Union of Students. The young people that took part in this study were between 16 and 20 years old. In total, 57 students took part in the research: 22 females and 35 males. The students were from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. The setting was a Further Education College in an urban area of Central England, which serves students from areas of social and economic disadvantage. The project employed a mixed methods research design, with Bourdieu’s notions of social capital applied to the analysis. Students took part in focus groups and auto-driven photo-elicitation, followed by semi-structured interviews. The data was analysed thematically utilising an interpretivist approach. The themes demonstrated a student body that was largely dismissive of formal channels of student voice practice, preferring different modes of interaction with their teachers. The findings have implications for student voice practice across England and offer insight into how young people may better be enabled to shape their educational experiences.
Global excitement for social emotional learning (SEL) continues to build, and more and more school systems are embracing it as the missing link to teaching and learning. As these systems clamber for SEL programming and guidance, however, the challenges are beginning to surface. Gaining buy‐in from stakeholders, therefore, involves more than simply “selling” everyone on the benefits of SEL. Trust and credibility in school leadership and governance are critical forces in gaining stakeholder buy‐in for SEL. SEL will require commitment from educators, however, so everyone must understand its relevance, in terms of the outcomes desired for the students and for the systems that serve them. A SEL framework should be selected that focuses on developing the desired skills, then policies, programs, and practices should align to the framework. System change that promotes a whole‐school approach to SEL is more likely to achieve success and sustainability.
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Reviews educational reform literature advocating changes in the organization of teachers' work to foster teacher satisfaction and effectiveness by treating them as reasonable, capable, and autonomous persons. Focuses on participative decision making, learning for improved practice, and evaluation. Decries the lack of parallel arguments regarding the treatment of students. (Contains 39 references.) (MAB)
Jean Rudduck and Julia Flutter call for a shift in the way we currently view young people at school and set out a case for radically rethinking aspects of school organisation, relationships and practice. Their research confirms that we need to see pupils differently, re-assess their capabilities and reflect on what they are capable of being and doing.
What is the role of students in educational policy-making in Canadian school systems? This question was the basis for my doctoral thesis in 1999. A study was conducted at school, school district and departmental levels across Canada. This article provides a brief account of the literature and methodology used and discusses the findings of the study in terms of what provision is made for student involvement in policy-making at each level in education, the nature of that involvement, the mechanisms used for recruiting student involvement in policy-making, the perceptions of stakeholders on student involvement, and the constraints to be overcome in Canadian school systems. It shows that education systems across Canada involve students in policy-making at the department, school district, and school levels, but in an advisory capacity: involvement is restricted to providing policy-makers with information.
Lisa Delpit uses the debate over process-oriented versus skills-oriented writing instruction as the starting-off point to examine the "culture of power" that exists in society in general and in the educational environment in particular. She analyzes five complex rules of power that explicitly and implicitly influence the debate over meeting the educational needs of Black and poor students on all levels. Delpit concludes that teachers must teach all students the explicit and implicit rules of power as a first step toward a more just society. This article is an edited version of a speech presented at the Ninth Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 5-6, 1988.
This article argues for attending to the perspectives of those most directly affected by, but least often consulted about, educational policy and practice: students. The argument for authorizing student perspectives runs counter to U.S. reform efforts, which have been based on adults’ ideas about the conceptualization and practice of education. This article outlines and critiques a variety of recent attempts to listen to students, including constructivist and critical pedagogies, postmodern and poststructural feminisms, educational researchers’ and social critics’ work, and recent developments in the medical and legal realms, almost all of which continue to unfold within and reinforce adults’ frames of reference. This discussion contextualizes what the author argues are the twin challenges of authorizing student perspectives: a change in mindset and changes in the structures in educational relationships and institutions.
There is an urgent need not only to attract more people into the teaching profession but also to build a more diverse, highly qualified, and culturally sensitive teaching force that can meet the needs of a rapidly changing school-age population. This Toolkit takes best practices from high school teacher academies around the United States and organizes them into the steps needed to design and implement programs. The purpose of the Toolkit is to help school districts plan and institutionalize high school teaching academies in order to nurture and "grow" prospective teachers committed to serving their schools and communities. Research done by the Urban Teacher Academy Project suggests that there are approximately 50 teacher academy programs in the country. These high school teacher academies are teaching-focused, comprehensive academic programs within larger schools, most of which offer electives related to teaching, learning, and children, with precollege internships in schools and partnerships with colleges and universities that provide a pathway into college and teacher education. The guide's first chapter gives strategies for putting the elements of a successful teaching career academy into place. The second chapter explains the important elements of effective programs and gives a look at how these elements have been implemented in other teaching academies. The third chapter provides advice on how to document and assess a program. An appendix provides useful information about other national precollegiate teacher recruitment programs to supplement or support teaching career academy activities. A planner's checklist is included to outline steps in designing a teaching career academy. An appendix contains descriptions of three teaching career academy programs, and a list of useful resources for establishing a teaching career academy is included. (SLD)
The essays in this collection, presented as letters to teachers, reaffirm Paulo Freire's place as the most significant educator in the world during the last half of the 20th century. As North America experiences a rapid change to conditions approximating those of the Third World, Freire's pedagogy becomes more important, not only for his methods of reading instruction but for the ways in which they can develop students' ability to be aware of themselves in the world and in their cultures. Freire states that his intention is to demonstrate that the task of the teachers, who are also learners, is both joyful and rigorous. This task demands seriousness and scientific, physical, emotional, and affective preparation. It also demands the evaluation of practice and the reform of teacher education. Teachers must act as teachers and not as coddling parents. The following "Letters" are included: (1) "First Words: A Pedagogical Trap"; (2) "First Letter: Reading the World/ Reading the Word"; (3) "Second Letter: Don't Let the Fear of What Is Difficult Paralyze You"; (4) "Third Letter: I Came into the Teacher Training Program because I Had No Other Option"; (5) "Fourth Letter: On the Indispensable Qualities of Progressive Teachers for Their Better Performance"; (6) "Fifth Letter: The First Day of School"; (7) "Sixth Letter: On the Relationship between the Educator and Learners"; (8) "Seventh Letter: From Talking to Learners to Talking to Them and with Them: From Listening to Learners to Being Heard by Them"; (9) "Eighth Letter: Cultural Identity and Education"; (10) "Ninth Letter: Concrete Context/Theoretical Context"; (11) "Tenth Letter: Once More the Question of Discipline"; and (12) "Last Words: To Know and To Grow--Everything Yet To See." (SLD)
Students are rarely invited to become active participants in their own education. Empowering students positively affects their well-being, behavior and values, academic achievement, teachers, and understanding of democracy. Barriers to giving students more choice fall into three categories: structural impediments, teacher resistance, and student resistance. Pseudochoices must be avoided. (Contains 55 references.) (MLH)