Innovations in Education

Students at the heart of the educational process

How administrators and teachers can adopt new approaches based on the premise that all students, without exception, have the ability to learn and contribute to their own education

by Anna Penido 10/20/2017

Student participation occurs when we place young people at the center of the educational process. Two problems arise, however – it appears we do not understand what this concept actually means, and we have even more difficulty putting it into practice. Any distraction can make us forget to consider them when we plan a lesson, make a decision about the school, or design government policy.

Resistance to the idea doesn’t help either. Some people confuse the proposal with something else, thinking it means letting the students decide on their own. Then there are those who believe that students have nothing to contribute. And there are also those who are so accustomed to not involving them that they cannot imagine doing things differently.

To put students at the center of the teaching and learning process, educators need to change how they perceive and interact with their learners, starting from the premise that all of them, without exception, are able to learn and can contribute to their own education.

– Read more about this subject in the Porvir Guide to Personalizing Teaching

Change implies the adoption of a new vision and attitude by administrators and teachers, but some practices can support them when implementing such changes in their day to day lives. Some of these are listed below:

Get to Know

Educators need to know who their students are in order to better understand their profiles and the conditions that favor or hinder their learning. It is difficult to offer a meaningful education when we do not know who we are trying to help. We need to know where these students live, their family and socioeconomic situations, their school history and learning difficulties, their physical and psychological health issues, and their interests and expectations, including in relation to the school. The challenge, in this case, is not to label or stigmatize the student, but to use this information in favor of their learning.

How to put it into practice
The task of gathering and analyzing information about each student becomes easier when shared between administrators and the teaching staff.

· Questionnaires completed at enrollment or at the beginning of classes to collect relevant information about each student;
· Individual conversations with families, conducted in a frank, structured and non-judgmental manner;
· Integration activities in the first week of class so that students can reflect and express ideas and feelings about themselves, their present reality and their expectations regarding the school, the school year and the future;
· Diagnosis and analysis of available data on the performance of each student and the school as a whole.


Educators need to recognize the limits and potential of each student. Throughout their school trajectory, students accumulate important experiences, such as participation in clubs, contests, sports competitions, seminars, artistic and community projects. When they leave, however, all they take with them is a history of their grades. The recognition of the differentials, progress and achievements of each student not only develops self-confidence and stimulates engagement, but demonstrates other learning accumulated throughout Basic Education. It also helps deconstruct stigmas and stereotypes. It is therefore important for educators to value achievements and to encourage students to use their talents and skills to contribute to their own learning and that of their peers. Recognizing the limits of young people, meanwhile, means considering them as specificities to be respected and challenges to be overcome.

How to put it into practice
The forms of recognition should be inclusive, and avoid generating competition or embarrassment among students.

· Recognition systems such as those used by electronic games, in which students accumulate points for their participation, collaboration and overcoming of challenges;
· Monitoring programs in which students are invited to use their skills to support the activities of their class and their school;
. Portfolios in which teachers and students record challenges and achievements;
· Respectful, welcoming and purposeful dialogues between administrators and teachers with students and their families to reflect on their difficulties and potential.


Educators need to build relationships of trust with their students. Students connect more strongly with teachers who inspire admiration, affection and feelings of security, especially those who are firm but welcoming and demonstrate genuine commitment to their learning. On the other hand, they resent it when the teachers do not even know their names, do not greet them and underestimate their ability. The deeper the relationship with the educator, the more they can encourage their students to overcome their limits and progress.

How to put it into practice
Educators who have attentive and constructive relationships with their students are not necessarily the nicest or the funniest. Teachers who truly care tend to establish their own relationship dynamics with their students, in order to perceive what is unique in each individual, to demand the maximum that each can give and to recognize the value of each achievement. Care should also be taken to avoid personal preferences interfering with the way students are treated, so that everyone has an equal share of respect and attention.

· Creation of agreed class and school rules and promises for a positive coexistence;
· Continual observation of the behavior of each student, with identification of possible problems and intervention as needed;
· Encouraging conversations with students about difficulties and advancements;
· Outside class activities for closer coexistence in more relaxed environments.


Educators need to plan their pedagogical practices according to the profiles and needs of their students. Administrators and teachers should consider all the information they have about their students before making important decisions. Students who find learning more difficult or learn at a slower pace, as well as faster or more unmotivated learners, should be continually considered in planning so that they do not end up getting left behind. Preformatted programs and structured didactic sequences work well as references when they can be readapted according to the reality of each educational network, school or class.

How to put it into practice
Educators have been invited to act as designers of learning, in that a designer is someone who understands the needs of people and designs the best solutions to meet those needs. Also, administrators and teachers need to understand the specific characteristics of their students and take them into account when planning their activities, so that everyone is guaranteed their right to learn and develop.

· Planning of diverse pedagogical practices, which contemplate the varied profiles of students;
· Listen to students to map perceptions about the dynamics of school and class and identify what is working and what can improve;
· Division of class time into different phases and activities to allow everyone to keep up;
· Division of the class into subgroups to carry out differentiated activities that meet specific needs.


Educators need to engage their students to feel committed to their learning process and encouraged to continue developing. Student disinterest is one of the main motivators of absences, indiscipline, low learning, dropouts and truancy. The more involved and active students are in the daily life of their schools, the greater the chance they have of learning and the less likely they are to stop studying. Engagement means promoting the effective participation of students in pedagogical and management activities, decision-making and project design, among many other possibilities.

How to put it into practice
Participation can take place in a superficial, decorative or manipulated manner, with students merely performing tasks prescribed by their educators. But engagement truly occurs when administrators and teachers are willing to give up their certainties and their power, to share doubts and make decisions with their students.

· Systematic listening to students, especially before making decisions that affect their school life;
· Flexibility so that students can make choices regarding the school environment, the dynamics of classes (how to learn) and the learning they are interested in (what to learn);
· Creation of opportunities for students to be co-authors of pedagogical practices, projects, events, productions and other creations related to their learning;
· Creation of opportunities for students to share responsibility for decisions and seek solutions to the problems of their school, always in collaboration with managers and teachers.

Monitor and Evaluate

Educators need to monitor and evaluate the development of their students to ensure that everyone learns. No student should be left out, so administrators and teachers must be aware of how each student evolves throughout their educational process. Monitoring means being at the student’s side to support them when things are not going well, review pedagogical strategies that prove ineffective and encourage them to do their best. Evaluation, however, cannot be seen as an instrument of punishment, but as a barometer that indicates whether objectives are being achieved and whether the rights of each individual to education are being guaranteed.

How to put it into practice
Most of the time, school assessments are more related to the demands of education systems than to students. Many do not contribute to helping them overcome their difficulties. Student-centered monitoring and evaluation are concerned with understanding how to learn, what students have already learnt and what they still need to learn, providing them with the necessary structure to overcome adversity and continue to develop. Therefore, they need to be involved in the whole process.

· A careful observation of the behavior and participation of each student and clear and purposeful devolution so that they themselves can be jointly responsible for their progress;
· Mentoring to support students in establishing goals, organizing their studies and overcome their difficulties;
· Use of technology platforms or similar resources to conduct real-time assessments to quickly identify learning gaps and offer other pedagogical strategies for those who cannot move forward;
· Use of diversified assessment practices that respond to different profiles and verify the intellectual, physical, social, emotional and cultural development of students.


Anna Penido
Inspirare director. Degree in Journalism from UFBA, with specialization qualifications in Human Rights from the University of Columbia and Social Management and Development from UFBA. In 2011, she took part in the Advanced Leadership Initiative program at Harvard University. She has worked as a reporter for the Correio da Bahia newspaper and the magazines Veja Bahia and Vogue. A member of the Odebrecht Foundation and the Bahia Arts and Crafts School. Founded and was a director of CIPÓ – Interactive Communication. Coordinated the UNICEF offices in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. She is a fellow of Ashoka Social Entrepreneurs.

*Translated by James Young


21st century skills, child education, elementary education, high school education, integral education, personalization