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If Students aren’t Involved in Our Processes to Reshape Education, We Have Missed the Mark

By: Adam Slaton, AASSA Chief Learning Officer

If students are not seated around our virtual tables for insight into how education can be reshaped, we need to add seats. Everyone around the world is engaged in discussions about reshaping education, and in many cases, it’s everyone but students. In instances where we do involve students, it’s how we involve them that often falls short. We tirelessly work at teaching students to be change makers, free thinkers, designers, engaged citizens, yet when it comes to involving them in discussions about changing the structure of education — their structure — we tend to limit the extent of their participation.

If any one group can best guide educators on how the educational system needs to be rebooted, it’s students. They are the ultimate practitioners. In a perfect scenario, it shouldn’t be us redefining and reforming education for them, it should be them redefining and reforming education for us.

As educators, we often tend to involve students as part of the process, rather than involving them in the process. Involving students as part of the process typically happens in the form of advisory groups, grade-level delegates, student council representatives, or focus groups that are designed to provide isolated feedback experiences. We facilitate, listen, gather information, and include (hopefully) the feedback during discussions and deliberations. These practices are generally used to fulfill our stakeholder feedback requirements, and although a small group of students might feel like their voices are being heard, in reality we aren’t really teaching them anything about the change process except how to gain isolated insight and information.

Being a part in the process means giving students a seat at the table. It means giving students an opportunity to experience first-hand how concepts are thought through collaboratively; how ideas are dissected, discussed, organized, and possibly fail; how we can agree to disagree; how we communicate ideas clearly or clearly; how we build consensus; how we use vulnerability to guide vision; how we use data to inform discussion and decision making. The list can go on and on. Giving students opportunities to be involved in the process is a real-life lesson that will have far much more value and impact in their lives than merely participating in an isolated feedback exercise.

As a former school administrator, I completely recognize that there are appropriate settings and contexts that might define whether we can have student involvement around the table. However, the more we can shift our thinking about moving students from simply being a part ‘of’ the process to being fully engaged ‘in’ the process, the more we will ensure that students are the focal point of educational transformation. This is our chance to partner with students in guiding them on how to take true ownership over their learning. This is our chance to engage students in an authentic experience that will forever shape how they address challenges ahead. This is our chance to truly redefine education through the eyes of our most important stakeholder: our students.   

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