Partnering with Students

Radical. Revolutionary. Inconceivable. Unnecessary. These words hang like trophies on the mantle of student-inclusive school change, not because they are particularly honorable or grandiose, but because these accusations have been proven untrue. 

Today, in schools around the world, Meaningful Student Involvement engages students as active and empowered partners in inclusive, interdependent school change. This means more than simply listening to students: it means engaging students as concerned partners, coherent contributors, and equal agents of change in schools.

This idea is not new. As early as 1938, progressive education pioneer John Dewey recognized that the habits of democratic citizenship necessarily develop in civic roles for students in schools. In 1970, ground-breaking educator Paulo Freire wrote, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” Throughout the 1980s and 1990s a growing number of writers advocated critical departures from traditional roles for students in school, calling for adults to partner with students in classroom pedagogy and school leadership.

The pool of examples, evidence, and critical reflection that explores students as partners in school change has grown over the past decade, and is currently reaching a critical juncture. That juncture is located in the heart of the growing number of classrooms and schools where students and educators are working together to re-imagine one another’s roles and responsibilities. These pioneers are placing themselves as partners in learning, teaching and leading schools. Everyday they are challenging their peers – both students and teachers – to re-examine the long-held view that students should be passive recipients of teaching. This new reality insists that young people are the central co-creators of knowledge, virtually demanding their vital participation in the improvement and ongoing operation of schools.

Meaningful Student Involvement synthesizes this tidal wave of energy by promoting the infusion of ideas, knowledge, opinions and experiences of students through education reform efforts. 

Excerpted from Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide, © 2003, 2012 CommonAction. All rights reserved. For more information, including professional development for educators andstudents, contact our office today by emailing

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