Getting Clearer: Our Students Need Sponsors, Not Saviors

Mass amounts of education information and conversation are being produced in response to COVID-19 school closures. Most, if not all, incorporates some reference to what students “need” And there is a shared resource, or informed expert advice presented to meet that need. That’s what education work is, right? Educators in various roles and experiences are there to meet the needs of students. However, some educators approach this in a dependent modality, where students are dependent on them, that they save students from their circumstances and naivete.

Students don’t need educators. Students are not dependent on educators to learn. Young people learn without and away from “school”. What students need are sponsors- concerted communities of mentors that in various roles and responsibilities invest in the talents and desires of our young people and build their capacity to do great things.

What is Sponsorship?
Sponsors provide resources to ensure students can have quality materials and access so they can learn at their best. Sponsors believe that students can do great things, and they invest in them in very specific and useful ways. Sponsors are proud of their students and share their accomplishments and developments. They connect them to other partners in the work that could further amplify their talents and ambitions. Sponsors ensure that students are safe, their well being is prioritized and sponsors keep students in a community that uplifts them.

Sponsorship is not a co-dependency. It’s an investment. There is trust in sponsorship. There is reciprocal accountability. Both sponsors and students work together towards a clear vision and purpose.

Respect & Accountability

When students have access to a community of sponsors, they experience respect and mutual accountability. They don’t learn for the sake of compliance, they learn with purpose and relevance. Students learn to interact with each other in ways that promote respect, collaboration, and empowerment rather than competition and meritocracy.  Students in sponsored communities are navigating learning with their own personalized plans feeling supported for continuous growth and feedback.

Sponsoring Students, Sponsoring Community        

Sponsors know when they invest well, the return is beneficial for the whole community. When sponsors support students, they are supporting the community at large as more competent and cared for students turn into more capable and caring adults. When students are sponsored, they are able to explore talents, build a relationship, and identify their ways to contribute and that improves the livelihood for everyone around them.

The kids are alright. When adults stop imposing upon students and instead invest in students, learning experiences will be far more meaningful. The way in which students develop learning identities and the way communities rally around students will develop an ecosystem of interdependency and opportunity. We will see the impact and importance of all levels for learning and development. Sponsorship holds us to an expectation of success that lies not in arbitrary compliance but in community-based outcomes. When students are reared to know who they are and how they can do great things, communities become ecosystems of greatness; working with each other and for each other to sponsor the next generation.

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Kelly Niccolls

Kelly Niccolls

Kelly has been an educator for fourteen years. She began her career teaching in Southern California and has helped schools and systems reimagine teaching and learning, as well as serving as a school administrator. She is a Deeper Learning Equity Fellow, driven by the relentless belief in the possibility of social justice within education systems. Kelly focuses her education leadership on re-imagining structures for teaching and learning in order to empower all students for the future. Kelly is also a member of the Getting Smart Advisory Board.

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