Within a single generation, schools have gone a long way and transformed the “how” and “why” of education. Despite their great diversity, modern schools now embrace teaching methods that actively engage students in their learning. Their ultimate goal, in doing so, is to shape future leaders. Yet, this “student-centeredness” comes with a paradox, which shows that the modern revolution in education is still incomplete.
Leaders Without A Voice?
Indeed, as much as schools insist that students be actively involved in their learning, schools rarely actively involve students in the decisions that shape their education. Recruitment, curriculum design, scheduling, assessment policies, discipline, remediation systems, etc.; all of this is generally “dumped” on students from the top down, just like traditional lectures used to be. In the best cases, they might be asked to provide some “feedback”, but rarely given the chance to initiate or help create meaningful change. More generally, modern schools want to turn their students into future leaders—but rarely, if ever, involve them in the leadership of the school.
To Educate Is To Empower
What better way for schools to teach students how to address the global issues of tomorrow than to invite them to address the present needs of their learning community? Educere, to educate, means “to guide forward”, to “bring forth” students’ knowledge, skills and dispositions, so as to help them become adults who are fully capable of leading themselves and, collaboratively, the world around them. Thus, true education is synonymous with student empowerment. For some time now, this has been more and more the case in the classroom. However, this ongoing revolution has also remained incomplete and stopped at the doors of administrative offices.
Education, educere, has an inherent goal: to make itself redundant as students become “lifelong learners”. Thus, it also has an intrinsic direction: progressive self-direction. Being the essence of education, this movement should not be limited to teaching and learning, but should include all aspects of the life of a school. Indeed, it should be every school’s ultimate mission. Consequently, effective school leadership should be judged by the extent to which the direction of a school manages to enact this guided self direction known as “student leadership.”
The Exciting Work Ahead
This certainly does not mean that students should “run the school”—not anymore than they should “do whatever they want” in the classroom. But it does mean that students should have a voice and be involved, as appropriate, but as much as possible, in the administration of their school. Of course, many questions remain open: to what extent is this possible? How can students acquire the necessary leadership skills? What are some structures and processes that can help implement this participative approach? The answers will always be context-specific and should be seen, not as discouraging roadblocks, but as exciting challenges and opportunities for each school to further its mission and its students’ education.
To that end, we will be launching in early 2021 a website devoted to student-leadership solutions and helping pioneer schools get started with the exciting work ahead.