A program of CommonAction Consulting.

About Us

Our Activities

Our Resources

Contact Us


 SoundOut on Facebook

SoundOut is an expert assistance program focused on promoting Student Voice and Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education.


We work with K-12 schools, districts, state and provincial education agencies, and nonprofit education organizations across the United States and Canada.


<Back to Articles


Expanding on the Key Characteristics

of Meaningful Student Involvement
By Adam Fletcher


When I first drafted the "Key Characteristics" of meaningful student involvement in 2003 my mental map was inundated with the pressures of No Child Left Behind, and I was simply unclear about the power the necessity of defining the edges of the puzzle. I had studied James Banks' Dimensions of Multicultural Education, and was determined to wrap my head around what the parameters of meaningful student involvement could be.


In the following article I expand on the "Key Characteristics", first published in a shorter form in the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change. By expanding on them, my hope is that they become a larger tool that is more effective in identifying, implementing, sustaining and critically reflecting on the power of student voice throughout education.


Key Characteristics of Meaningful Student Involvement

  • School-wide approaches - All students in all grades are meaningfully involved throughout their education, including their learning experiences, classroom management, interactions with peers and adults throughout the school, and ongoing throughout their educational careers. This may include becoming engaged in education system-wide planning, research, teaching, evaluation, decision-making, and advocacy. It may also mean partnerships between students and adults in learning communities; student-specific roles in building leadership, and; intentional programs designed to increase student efficacy as partners in school improvement.1 

  • High levels of student authority - The ideas, knowledge, opinions and experiences of students are validated and authorized through adult acknowledgement of students’ ability to improve schools. This should reflect a schools' commitment to intergenerational equity in sustainable activities, comprehensive planning and effective assessments that measure shared and individual perceptions and outcomes of meaningful student involvement.2

  • Interrelated strategies - Students are incorporated into ongoing, sustainable school improvement activities in the form of learning, teaching, and leadership in schools. Every school should be in a continuous mode of improvement; every single improvement effort should seek nothing less than to engage students. Meaningful student involvement allows a practical avenue towards that engagement, opening up doors for classroom teachers, building principals and other adults in schools to fully and completely partner with students. Each of these strategies should be integrated with a building's school improvement plan, as well as their regular policies, in order to encourage collaboration among stakeholders - particularly students.3

  • Sustainable structures of support - Policies and procedures are created and amended to promote meaningful student involvement throughout schools. Sustainability within schools cannot be seen solely through a structural lens; instead, it must happen with the intermixing of culture and structure. The characteristics above deal with the first; this characteristic addresses the latter. These structures of support may include student action centers that train students and provide information to student/adult partners; curriculum specifically designed to teach students about school improvement and student action, and; fully-funded, ongoing programs that support meaningful student involvement.4

  • Personal commitment - Students and adults must acknowledge their mutual investment, dedication, and benefit, visible in learning, relationships, practices, policies, and school culture. This builds community and connection among partners who may have previously seen "the other" as different and separate, both in intention and action. That may be particularly true among low-income students, students-of-color and low-achieving students in buildings where predominately white, upper-income and/or high achieving students have been perceived as having greater value or more importance than other learners. Sharing and re-affirming personal commitment is a powerful characteristic of meaningful student involvement.5 

  • Strong learning connections - Classroom learning and student involvement are connected by classroom credit, ensuring relevancy for educators and significance to students. Meaningful student involvement should not be an "add-on" strategy for educators - it should be integrated throughout their daily activities. Classroom teachers should acknowledge exceptional projects and involvement by students with credit, just as they acknowledge service learning activities - because meaningful student involvement is a service learning activity. The difference is that students focus on schools, the way John Dewey intended when he originally wrote about the structure of schooling in Democracy and Education.6


Closing considerations

Meaningful student involvement can help meet the goals of learning in all schools by dramatically re-envisioning the roles of students throughout education. These characteristics can bring schools towards the first steps of finding their footing - SoundOut can help, too. Contact our office at (360)753-2686 or email info at for more information.




1. Michael Fullan is a widely recognized expert on the necessity of school-wide approaches to school improvement. See Fullan, M. (2000). "The three stories of education reform," Phi Delta Kappan, 81(8), 581-584.


2. I always defer to Alison Cook-Sather's expertise on student authority. See Cook-Sather, A. (2002). "Authorizing students' perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and dhange in education," Educational Researcher 31(4).


3. In 2005 I wrote about this for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. See "How to Meaningfully Involve Students in School Improvement," in School Improvement Process Guide, (2005) by Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction: Olympia, WA.


4. I found White, C. and Crump, S. (1993) "Education and the three 'P's: Policy, politics and practice: A review of the work of S. J. Ball," British Journal of Sociology of Education, 14(4) pp. 415-429 useful for understanding the role of policy in creating sustainable conditions in schools.


5. This is reflected in what Peter Senge calls "personal mastery". In The Fifth Displine Senge writes, “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, their growth areas.  And they are deeply self-confident." See the Society for Organizational Learning website for more information.


6. Learn more about the value of service learning from Cipolle, Susan (2004) "Service-learning as a counter-hegemonic practice: Evidence pro and con," Multicultural Education, 11(3), 12-23. Also, curriculum maps can be a useful tool to identify curricular connections in meaningful student involvement.


About SoundOut


SoundOut has worked in more than 100 K-12 schools and districts across the United States and around the world. Learn more about us, and for more information contact us.















SEARCH SOUNDOUT Enter search term

Powered by Google

STUDENT VOICE NEWS Enter email address

Powered by RiseUp


All original material on this website is copyright © 2011 SoundOut. All rights reserved.

For more information write to SoundOut, PO Box 6185, Olympia, Washington 98507 or email