The aims of Meaningful Student Involvement don’t just affect students. The seventh aim is to engage adults as allies and partners to students.
Aim 7: Create Student/Adult Partnerships
Today, schools routinely treat students as passive recipients of education, encouraging the perspective of students as empty vessels that need to be filled with teachers’ knowledge. However, there are alternatives. Some schools are using students as informants to tell them what students like and do not like; others are giving students the reigns to their learning and entrusting them with the keys to the castle of education. Meaningful Student Involvement is different from both of those approaches because it positions students as partners who are actively, wholly engaged throughout the entirety of teaching, learning and leading throughout the education system.
No Sole Authors
Meaningful Student Involvement does not cast students as the sole authors of their educational experiences. Research and experience have repeatedly proven that is not wholly beneficial to students or the democratic society we share. Instead, adults can have all kinds of roles in engaging students as partners, including facilitating, training, teaching, challenging, developing ideas, advising, mentoring, standing up with, or even standing up for students. (Bragg, 2007) Meaningful Student Involvement even encourages adult allies to do things on behalf of students when it is appropriate—and throughout the current education system, that is often the case. The challenge for adults within Meaningful Student Involvement is to not do for students what that can do with students.
Empowering adults to become allies and partners to students requires helping them see students as part of the solution, instead of seeing them as a problem to be solved. It is important to distinguish this difference, if only because it is foreign to many educators, administrators, parents and community workers focused on education. Seeing students as a problem to be solved is a deficit model that is entrenched in the belief that young people are not full humans. Instead, many adults throughout the school system today see students as “adults-in-the-making” (Kohn, 1993) who are not capable, desiring or deserving of the right to make decisions for themselves, let alone for other students.
It takes a deliberate effort for many adults throughout the education system to see students in a different light than what they have been traditionally cast. Colleges of education, education publishing companies, professional development trainers, policymakers and other facilitators of adult capacity building throughout the education system routinely demean, neglect, deny and incapacitate students. Wholly neglectful of the people they are charged with serving, these entities cannot be demonized for their roles in traditional student involvement, as they are merely perpetuating the larger culture they have inherited and the culture they are part of. However, if promoting Meaningful Student Involvement is going to be successful, all adults throughout the entirety of the education system have to become engaged as allies and partners to students.
This can happen by using the same efforts that engage teachers as classroom experts and parents as community partners, and expanding, innovating and transforming these practices to bring in other adults and to also include students as substantive contributors throughout all parts of the education system.
Questions to Ask
- Can you envision having a 50/50 partnership with every single student you interact with every day, week, month, or year?
- Are there different kinds of partnerships you are in with adults? Are all partnerships equal?
- What gets in the way of engaging students as allies right now?
You Might Also Be Interested In…
- Student/Adult Partnership Activities
- Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook
- SoundOut Student Voice Bibliography