Types of Relationships between Students and Adults

Understanding the different types of relationships students and adults can have with each other is vital to Meaningful Student Involvement. There is not one simple way all adults interact with all students all the time. Instead, there is a wide spectrum. Additionally, it is important to understand how those interactions are manifested in classrooms, principals’ offices Student/Adult Partnerships are neither over-controlling and over-permissive.

Spectrum of Adult Support for Young People


1. Over-controlling student-adult relationships

Over-controlling student-adult relationships occur when adults react to a negative perception or misconception of students, including their freedoms, rights and responsibilities. Taking the guise of concern for students, over-controlling student-adult relationships are defined by distrust, fear, or willful misunderstanding of students. This type of relationship can lead to students being infantilized by teachers, counselors, administrators, and others throughout schools, made to feel like infants who are incapable or subhuman. Over-controlling schools can lead to locked doors, coded language, filtered Internet, and choices made for students that rely on force to implement.

2. Over-permissive student-adult relationships

Over-permissive student-adult relationships are the opposite end of the spectrum, when adults assume students have too much ability. This can reflect a misguided attempt by adults in schools who think the best of students or want to be their friends. However, this is a disingenuous relationship as well, in the same sense that we would never give a 16-year-old the keys to a car and expect them to teach themselves how to drive. This type of relationship is often labeled of as student empowerment, despite actually incapacitating some students’ abilities to exercise power in their own learning or with others. Over-permissiveness may take the form of ill-trained, under-informed students acting without adult input.  Fortunately, the ideal relationship might be the most realistic and responsive.

3. Responsible student-adult relationships

Responsible student-adult relationships are typified by Meaningful Student Involvement because they train students and adults about responsibility in terms of being able to respond, or being Response-Able. Response-Able student-adult relationships require adults to become able to respond appropriately to the demands of engaging students throughout the education system. This type of relationship fosters Student/Adult Partnerships. Providing issue- and action-specific learning opportunities, engaging student wisdom, and saying “no” when it is appropriate are key. Adults become allies with students by working with they, instead of for them.

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