30 Ways Students Can Be Partners in Schools

Anti-testing, pro-Common Core, anti-school closures, pro-teacher accountability… As the banner of student voice is unfurled in an increasing number of education arenas across the U.S., we’re seeing young people stand up in unprecedented numbers to demand what is rightfully theirs: High-quality education. Yet, just as this movement is beginning to pick up steam, its getting derailed from its true potential, which is student integration.

Wrangled into an adult-driven, adult-centered field, when sharing student voice, young people are often only asked about things that adults are concerned with in schools. Like never before, we can hear students’ opinions about topics like the achievement gap, charter schools, privatization, rural education, violence and safety, and year-around schools. They’re rallying outside state capitals, speaking in school board meetings, and demanding change specifically from students’ perspectives.


However, many of these perspectives are blinded at best.

The very organizations, programs, and agencies that are engaging student voice are oftentimes blindsiding their targets. Without concern for authenticity, ability, or desire, these student voice activities are focused on listening to “students in the raw”, meaning learners who haven’t been taught about what they’re trying to change. Programs often remove students from their communities or schools, sit them in a room, and drill into them the importance of an issue that adults have determined they need to hear student voice focused on. They teach them the adults’ perspectives, or they teach them nothing at all. After that, they ask students to stand up for that issue, and with or without being conscious of it, students eagerly comply.

Students need new roles throughout education. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven education schemes, students need to be active partners in schools. This can happen in many ways, including:

30 Ways Adults Can Engage Students as Partners in Schools

  1. Train students about multiple perspectives regarding issues in education
  2. Train educators about the difference between Students as Recipients and Students as Partners
  3. Help students understand the education system, including what it is, how it operates, who is in it, where it fails and when it succeeds
  4. Develop opportunities for students to share their unfettered concerns about schools and education with adults
  5. Create formal positions for students to occupy throughout education 
  6. Create curriculum with students as partners in identifying, planning, and critiquing 
  7. Co-design learning plans with every student
  8. Assign all students a mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of the school.
  9. Help students plan yearlong school day calendars that affect them and others 
  10. Engage students in designing and redesigning schools
  11. Encourage nontraditional student leaders to co-teach regular classes with adults
  12. Allow students to become active partners in school budgeting 
  13. Give students positions to become classroom teaching assistants 
  14. Partner student teams to teach courses
  15. Acknowledge students teaching younger students in lower grade levels with classroom credit
  16. Co-create professional development with students to teach teachers about students
  17. Assign students with create meaningful classroom evaluations of themselves
  18. Partner with students to create evaluations of classes, curriculum, teaching styles, and schools
  19. Train students how to evaluate teacher performance 
  20. Create opportunities for students to lead parent-teacher conferences
  21. Create postions for students to participate in curriculum selection and design committees
  22. Give students on school boards full-voting positions
  23. Create enough positions for students to be equally represented in every education committee and meeting
  24. Help students create and enforce behavior policies 
  25. Partner with students in school personnel decisions
  26. Work with students to organize public campaigns for school improvement 
  27. Create opportunities for students to fully join all existing school committees 
  28. Give students data and information so they understand why and how schools are changing
  29. Allow students to educate policy-makers about challenges in schools 
  30. Encourage students with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns
The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free on this blog and on the SoundOut.org website, right now! You can also read the research-supported Meaningful Student Involvement publications I’ve written free

Check it out. If you have any questions, want to talk, or need a trainer or speaker for your next event contact me. You can email me at adam@soundout.org or call 360-489-9680. If you storm ahead on your own, awesome! You’re not alone…

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