STUDENTS AS PLANNERS Students can learn what, how, how well, why, where, and when they are learning, becoming meaningfully involved in schools. Possibilities | Examples | Tools | Reports | Research


Meaningful Student Involvement Def: Engaging students as partners in educational planning, research, teaching, evaluating, decision-making, advocacy, and more.

POSSIBILITIES of Students as Education Planners

  • Student co-designed learning plans for every student

  • Students co-designing curriculum

  • Students planning school day calendars

  • Students participating in new school design

  • Students planning classroom learning activities

  • Students budgeting school activities

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EXAMPLES of Students as Planners


First Grade Planners First-grade students in Cheney, Washington, have participated in the Learning-Centered Curriculum-Making Project. This program features students developing a curriculum that they could use as part of their classroom assignments.  The teachers assumed that if students helped to create the curriculum, the classroom dialogue about this process would shed light on how to make learning experiences more cohesive and purposeful.  All of the activities met state learning standards.  The project progressed by teaching students about a subject, and then having students reinvent the lesson plan.  They highlighted language and thinking skills related to various subject disciplines. The students used dialog, coaching, modeling, questioning, and reinforcing techniques. Students helped select target themes, establish guiding questions, and design classroom instructional activities.


Working with Teachers A program that engaged middle school students as researchers at their school in Orange, California, took the research to the next step by inviting the students to participate in school planning meetings.  Students spent time with several teachers planning and constructing learning units based on the research they conducted.  They also met with the school principal, pressing pressed her for changes in school rules and militaristic physical education practices.  A discipline committee made up of teachers, student researchers and administrators re-examined and reconceptualized the school merit system.  The principal also formed a student-teacher task force to visit other schools in the area to begin re-examining the physical education program.  As one student wrote, “When I first joined the [student/ teacher planning group], I thought it was a waste of time.  I thought a bunch of kids wouldn’t be able to make anything change; obviously I was wrong.”


Involved from the Ground Up High school students in Puyallup, Washington, co-created the mission, guiding principles, and co-wrote the school constitution for a new high school.  The result is a student-inclusive decision-making process beginning with every student participating in a leadership class daily.  Students also participated in the architectural design process for the school, with much of their input being incorporated into the building.  Today, large open spaces and advanced technology courses stand as a testament to the effectiveness of student participation in education planning.


Education Planning as Activism One student group in the Bronx, New Yrok is taking meaningful student involvement in education planning to the next level.  Sistas and Brothas United, or SBU, is working with school district officials to create a small school focused on educating students for social justice.  SBU has worked to improve their own schools for several years.  They’ve rallied and researched, and as one student said, “[We] got a lot of stuff fixed… that gives me a sense of power.”  The students are flexing their power in another direction now.  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.  As the student-written mission statements says, “A focus on social justice will help students clarify their values, understand their rights, and relate these  to the broader world around them.”  According to SBU, the school will center around democratic leadership practices and focus on community impacts.  There will be community space and place-based learning, as well as student-adult partnerships throughout the curriculum design and grading.  The students do not foster illusions of achieving their goals tomorrow.  According to one student, “In the work we do, you can’t be selfish… Its about us standing up for what we believe in and making change for [our sons and daughters]” .


Learning through Service A high school in Spokane, Washington, offers a course called Practicum in Community Involvement that engages students in developing their own year-long learning project.  Students must incorporate certain elements into their project, including research, action and reflection, and identify a community mentor to guide them in their learning.  Students’ responses to their experiences grow increasingly sophisticated and powerful, with students regularly exclaiming, “This is the only reason I made it through my senior year.”


Successes of Planning A student in Potomac, Maryland chronicled her own story of becoming involved in education planning in a recent book on the subject. She recounted her elementary education and being shut-out of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.  “They discussed my program for the next year and then told me what to do. I did not like it.  I felt like I was not important.  I also had no interest in school.”  In middle school she attended IEP meetings for the first time.  After spending several months in boring meetings packed with unfamiliar language, the adults in the room asked the student if she wanted to go to a school with her peers.  She remarked that, “This was the first time I had a say in what was going to happen to me in school.  After this experience she went on to have a highly successful high school career, including several learning experiences from the IEP process.  Her transition from high school to college was marked by several independent decisions.  However, in reflection this student explains that this first breakthrough meeting where she decided where to go to school was the point that, “changed my whole life” (Pauley, 1996).


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TOOLS for Students as Planners


Kids as Planners: A Guide to Strengthening Students, Schools and Communities through Service-Learning. Knowles, T. and Brown, D. (2000). KIDS Consortium. (2001). Lewiston, ME: Author.


“Chapter 5: Student designed curriculum,” in What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know.  Westerfield, OH: National Middle Level School Association.


Overcoming Barriers to Student Voice


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RESEARCH for Students as Planners


Knowles, T. and Brown, D. (2000). “Chapter 5: Student designed curriculum,” in What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know. Westerfield, OH: National Middle Level School Association.


What Kids Can Do. (2003a). Students submit budget recommendations.

Retrieved from here.


Incorporating student voice into teaching practice. Kordalewski, J. (1999). ED440049. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education.  


“Active learning: Students and the school budget process,” Evans, R. and Anthony, J. (1991 June). The Social Studies. 56-61.

“Want safe schools? Put the kids in charge!” Gordon, R. (2003). Classroom Leadership 7(2): 6-7.

When Students Create the Curriculum. Grace, M. (1999). Educational Leadership, 57 (5) 71-74.


Student Directed Planning: Fostering Student Ownership in Learning. Platz, D. (1994). Education. 114(3) 420-423.


Students as Partners in Research and Restructuring Schools. SooHoo, S. (1993). The Educational Forum. 57 386-393.


Making it Happen: Student Involvement In Educational Planning. Wehmeyer, M., Sands, D. (eds.) (1998). altimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Pub Co.


The Schools We Need: Creating Small High Schools That Work For Us. What Kids Can Do. (2003) Providence, RI: Author.


Regional Education Labs & Student Voice SoundOut compilation of different government-funded educational research organizations' work on student voice and involvement. 


Can Kids Design Curriculum? Yes! Nelson, J.R., Frederick, L. (April 1994). Education Digest, 59 (8) 42-43.


"Do Students Care about Learning?" Olson, L. (Ed.) (Sep. 2002).  Educational Leadership.















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