The second aim of Meaningful Student Involvement is simply worded with very complex implications throughout education.
Aim 2: Expand the expectation of every student in every school to become an active and equitable partner throughout education.
Traditional roles for student participation in schools can be perceived as limiting in many ways. Meaningful Student Involvement acknowledges the central role students have in educational reform by building the capacity of schools for meaningful involvement.
In the history of schools, students were expected to be the merely passive recipients of adult-driven education systems. They were to show up when adults want, learn the topics that adults wanted, and behave the ways that adults expected them to. However, technology has heralded many changes that schools have not adapted to. Sure, there may be computers in every classroom and Internet throughout every school, but many teachers still have not learned to actively engage students as partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout education. This is what students today demand in order to make their learning relevant.
Those three elements—learning, teaching and leadership—should be integrated into every classroom for every student. That means that even the most disaffected learner still has opportunities to make decisions about their own learning and other students’ learning. It means that transient students get to evaluate teachers and curriculum. It means that all students get to research learning, plan activities, and be active partners no matter what their status in schools.
Some researchers have been using the phrase “student/adult partnerships” lately to describe any occasion where adults engage student voice deliberately in schools. That is an excellent way to build interest in the concept. The unfortunate part, though, is that it minimizes the potential of what students could be doing throughout schools. Partnerships are not easily entered into relationships that should be thrown around for feel good activities. Instead, if we consider the background of partnerships in law, we can understand student/adult partnerships as fully active, mutually invested opportunities for each party to recognize the full humanity of the other. Students need these activities with adults starting when they are young so they can build their skills and knowledge across the span of their education careers. There is a challenge when adults treat partnerships as equal though, because students are not equals to adults. While they are full humans with a wealth of knowledge and abilities, they do not have the same knowledge, abilities, or experience of adults. This necessitates creating equitable partnerships between students and adults. Equitable student/adult partnerships are vital for many reasons, not the least of which being that they recognize the uniqueness of each party involved. They validate the perspectives or students with romanticizing them, at the same time as they recognize the appropriate authority of educators and support staff throughout the education system.
Raising our expectations for students should go far beyond academics, because it is not just the academic life of the student affected by schools. Student/adult partnerships appropriately elevate student voice, as well as the roles of students and adults throughout the education system.
Questions to Ask
- What do students’ current roles throughout education say about adults’ expectations for students?
- Whose responsibility is it to build student engagement for all students?
- Should everyone involved in the lives of students be charged with changing their perceptions of students?