A Case Study in Overcoming Barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement

In the following case study we learn about cultural and structural barriers to meaningful student involvement. Read it and figure out what you’d do!

Teachers in a middle school decided to invite a to student join a committee, a first for their school district. During a seventh grade Advisory period, one teacher invited a student to volunteer to participate in a meeting that evening. At the meeting, there were 6 teachers, and the one student who missed her Junior Honor Society meeting in order to attend. After sitting through three meetings without speaking, the student stopped attending. Afterwards, the teachers swore off inviting “any more kids” because “they don’t add anything” to the meeting.

Structural Barriers

  • Teacher preparation courses and professional development training does not prepare or reinforce teachers’ ability to meaningfully involve students.
  • Meaningful student involvement be limited to one school or to middle and/or high schools, or foisted on the shoulders of a small number of teachers.
  • Student involvement was an afterthought to committee planning, occurring only the day of the meeting, rather than as a course of action with framing and reflecting activities.
  • The meeting was not announced in enough time to allow student participants to prepare.
  • The committee meeting time conflicted with previously planned student activities, limiting the participation of more students.
  • The student was not told about expectations for their involvement.
  • The student did not receive training on committee participation or the issues addressed by the committee.
  • There was inequitable representation between the student and the teachers.
  • The student had no structured reflection focused on her experience of being involved in the committee.

Cultural Barriers

  • While the teachers recognized the inherent benefit of meaningful student involvement, their were armed with good intentions, not experience-driven practice.
  • Teacher didn’t have knowledge of or access to materials to help them develop their committee.
  • The nature of the activity had limited appeal to diverse students, particularly non-involved students.
  • Committee participation was seen as separate and unrelated from classroom lessons, despite the opportunities for applied learning in communication, leadership, and social awareness.
  • Committee participation was seen as separate and unrelated from Junior Honor Society activities, despite the connections between serving on the committee and community service.
  • The teachers made no overt concessions designed to engage the student in the meeting, instead relying on her to answer the question, “What do you think?” in the same way another teacher would.
  • Lacking opportunities to reflect on her involvement, the student complained to other students about the experience, further disinteresting other students from becoming involved.
  • The teachers’ perceptions of the student and her involvement will further alienate student voice.
How would you address these barriers? Following are some of the ways I would recommend.

Begin by developing a district or school-wide strategy for meaningful student involvement, including professional development, policies encouraging and sustaining student voice, and integrated approaches to developing, sustaining, and strengthening the impact of meaningful student involvement. Steps in this particular scenario may include…

  • Individual teacher advocate learning about student voice and meaningful student involvement.
  • Teacher advocate training peer teachers and intentionally selected nontraditional and traditional student leaders about student voice and meaningful student involvement.
  • Students learning about issues in education by incorporating their reflections on school in a constructivist learning experience centering on the committee’s work.
  • Teachers and students committing to participating as equals on committee.
  • Facilitation of development and reflection activities focusing on student voice are provided throughout committee activities.
  • Final committee activity is focused on critical reflection and celebration of accomplishments, including meaningful student involvement.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at https://adamfletcher.net

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