A Response to Meaningful Student Involvement

Coming on almost a decade since I began working in education, to this day I had yet to encounter an honest response to my proposal for educational transformation focused on my conception of Meaningful Student Involvement. However, today I came upon a blog post by a PamJoyce, who mentioned me by name in her post. It was her colleague John Froess who shot back the response that has knocked my socks off. This conversation happened in August 2008. I hope either of them comes upon this and replies.

“Meaningful Student Involvement is the process of engaging students in every facet of the educational process for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.” – Adam Fletcher 

The idea of students being “engaged as education planners, researchers, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers, and advocates” is a lofty, idealistic goal, but one we must aim for even though it will involve an entire restructuring of the teacher education/public school system as we know it. Taking the “ownership of learning” away from the teacher and placing into the hands (and mindset) of the student is key to creating an educational pedagogy that does not separate the learner from his/her curriculum. 

“Meaningful Student Involvement charges educators with the responsibility of engaging all students in dynamic roles with the on-going task of creating and fostering success in schools.” 

The idea of “engaging all students” is one that teachers (should) strive for daily in their classroom. After all, with engagement comes involvement; with involvement discipline becomes unnecessary. Why, then, would we not want to encourage a teaching practice that makes students responsible for their learning? And how do we get our colleagues, administrators and school board members to agree to adopt this “radical” philosophy? 

Perhaps we do not start by changing everyone and everything around us. Perhaps we look at our own classroom first and begin there. Unfortunately, in order to institute long lasting change more than one classroom must be affected. To have any real impact, this has to become a school-wide philosophy (though preferably a district-wide one) in order to reach, teach and train students from the moment they begin in the public school system to the day they graduate from it so that “ . . . [F]rom the earliest grades all students are taught critical thinking and active leadership, and are engaged as purposeful learners who embrace multiple, diverse perspectives.” 

In time, the goal of every student having an Individual Education Plan would become a reality. Ideally, in time, each student would take responsibility for his/her IEP and therefore take responsibility for his/her learning. 

“Imagine if you will, before the beginning of the school year, every educator receives a file. The student, their previous teachers, and their parents all participated equally in creating this file. In it is a description of the child, learning goals and objectives for the year, particular learning needs and focus areas, and past evaluations of the student’s learning, completed by the student, their previous teacher, and their parents. This Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed with every student, regardless of age, grade, ability, or achievement, focusing on the student as a partner in his or her own education.” 

The above scenario can only become a reality with a fundamental change in teacher education and a transformation of current teacher/learner philosophy. Although bringing change to the post-secondary system is a seemingly impossible goal, introducing the same concept of change to a local school district would not be as futile if that board that possessed the vision and desire to see it through. Of course there will be opposition (as there is to any form of change) but if a district’s staff is supported, educated and nurtured, and given time and funding for continuous professional development, and if all administrators made a commitment, a philosophy like Meaningful Student Involvement could be instilled into the district mission statement and thrive as a result . . . easier said than done. 

Fletcher recognizes that the integration of this program has its challenges and looks at three areas that need to be addressed.

1. Structural impediments, including administrative controls on individual classroom teachers, policies disallowing student roles in activities, and the lack of institutional support, which includes funding, training, and ongoing evaluation.
2. Resistance by educators, including reliance on traditional instructional methods and leadership models, personal satisfaction derived from controlling students, dependence on control through punishment and rewards.
3. Student resistance, including refusing to partake in activities with the proclamation that it’s the adult’s job to decide, testing by offering outrageous suggestions or responses to see if the teacher is really serious about the invitation to participate, and parroting by repeating what adults have said or probably want to hear (Kohn, 1993). 

However, he goes on to state that “these barriers shouldn’t be viewed as insurmountable; rather, they are engaging students in every facet of schooling for the purpose of strengthening their learning.” This is a key focus of our current school system: we want to strengthen our students’ learning in whatever way we can. We want to make them “lifelong learners” and give them the tools necessary to survive and prosper in society and in their daily lives. We want them to take their learning into their own hands and find meaning and purpose in all of it. If this is the case, then why not teach them to “create and foster” their own success? What better gift could we give them?

I would love to see more sophisticated thought in response to Meaningful Student Involvement. Anyone?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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