8 Rules for Student/Adult Partnerships

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The vision of student/adult partnerships is at the core of Meaningful Student Involvement. The idea was that students could learn more effectively by partnering with teachers and other adults in the education system to provide vision, connection and support in learning, teaching and leadership. I have have been grateful to learn a LOT from my work in this area!

8 Rules for Student/Adult Partnerships

A student/adult partnership is an intentionally equitable intergenerational relationship. They can happen any place at anytime for nearly any purpose. Here are eight rules I have seen through my experience and research.

  1. Make it personal. The most powerful relationships in young peoples’ lives are filled with intrinsic rewards, not extrinsic ones. Student/adult partnerships aren’t obvious through gold stars and hashmarks on the whiteboard; instead, they are felt in the heart and seen in the mind. Student engagement is personal, not predictable.
  2. Transparency is key. Honesty and authenticity are requirements for student equity with adults. When adults learn to share the details of a situation (including who, what, when, where, how, and most importantly, why), young people can invest and own activities in outcomes in ways they cannot otherwise.
  3. The goal is engagement. Academic achievement might happen through student engagement, but its not a guarantee. Learning will happen whether it’s demonstrable or not. The goals of student/adult partnerships is engagement, which, when sustained, is a greater outcome than anything currently graded in schools.
  4. Student voice is a journey. Student voice must be supported for student engagement, but it is not the goal. It’s a journey, an ever-evolving process that
  5. Motivation is great, but focus on partnerships. Sometimes students lose steam for partnerships, and adults might too! Staying focused is vital though, and motivation will happen as long as student/adult partnerships are the target.
  6. This is not a game. Everyday, young people are discriminated against because of their age. This happens in schools, at home, and throughout their communities. Compounding this is racism, as well as classism, sexism and other biases. Student/adult partnerships can include playing and fun, but we must intentionally transform our relationships with students in order to save our society and their lives.
  7. Beware unintended consequences. You know what happens when you set a target? People aim for it! If young people experience youth/adult partnerships in your class, in your after school program, at your summer camp, or in any other single place in your community, they will want to experience student/adult partnerships in every other place throughout your community!
  8. Student/adult partnerships are a process, not a project. Once you start partnerships with learners, they don’t stop. You should commit your entire school year to fostering student/adult partnerships, and understand that they can blow the doors off the 8-3 classroom. Instead, plan on committing significant portions of your planning time, out-of-school time, and even your personal time to supporting your student partners in equitable ways. If you can’t do that, don’t try it.

These are eight rules for student/adult partnerships.

Don’t be afraid!

Don’t be afraid of them! Unlike many others working to improve education today, there are some districts that are fully supportive of student/adult partnerships as a powerful tool in classrooms, hallways, offices and boardrooms.

They can be about more than student engagement; some schools and youth-serving nonprofits foster student/adult partnerships in order to build community, foster democracy in action, and build significant project-based learning opportunities. However, even if you don’t do any of those things, that’s OK. For many young people, any partnership with an adult is more powerful than what they experience right now.

What would YOU add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts — share them in the comments section below!

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Adam F.C. Fletcher is available to consult, speak, and write.

Does Adultism Affect Student Learning?

In a recent interview about adultism, the interviewer asked me whether adultism affects education. Here’s my answer:

All parts of society meant to address youth are compromised through adultism, especially education. The very premise of compulsory schools – forcing youth to attend – was originally meant to intervene against child labor. However, its become a tool for enforcing compliance and coercion in society. This disallows youth from acting as full members of society by forcing them to learn a standardized curriculum, stay confined throughout the course of the workday, and generally incapacitating their power and disabling their passions. By doing this, schools cynically enforce the power of adults over youth, further entrenching the social hierarchy that relies on adultism.

While there are obvious reasons for this like securing adult power, incapacitating revolutionary sentiment among youth, and enforcing social hierarchy, I think its vital to understand the economic manipulations that allow, encourage, sustain, enforce and manipulate all this: In the worldwide economic machine today, youth are a transitional commodity. This means that they’re seen as adults-in-the-making whose sole purpose is to become better customers. As adults, people are generally empowered to become economic agents as producers, accumulators and customers. Since they aren’t recognized in those economic realms, youth are generally seen as under-actualized consumers. This disallows adults from successfully advocating for youths’ genuine best interests, and wholly takes away youths’ abilities to advocate for themselves. Basically, no money = no power. Any appearance otherwise is simply a momentary blip or allowed by the economic system as a release value for the stresses of social change. That’s why we have a momentarily powerful youth movement right now; its seen as a pressure release valve. When that pressure is gone though, what will happen to that movement? Only time will tell…


What do you think – does adultism affect education? What do you think about my response? Share your thoughts here!


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Brain Research and Meaningful Student Involvement

There are fascinating intersections between brain research and Meaningful Student Involvement. Luckily, they are becoming clearer with time and more commitment from researchers.

Brain research routinely shows that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. Research also shows that given increased opportunities to exercise responsibility, children and youth increase their capabilities to exercise their rights.

This effectively shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools.

Research shows a variety of brain issues are affected positively by Meaningful Student Involvement, including student ownership, student agency, motivation and more. This means that when paired with student/adult partnerships, a variety of strategies can greatly enhance classrooms and schools.

As I continue rebuilding the SoundOut website, I’m going to keep making these findings more explicit and obvious. I hope this will create a compelling, unstoppable narrative that education leaders, politicians and parents cannot deny.

There are many reasons why Meaningful Student Involvement should be at the center of education reform today. Brain research shows yet another.


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  • SoundOut

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