Do To, Do For, or Do With Students

When it comes to how people interact with each other, there are four degrees of relationship along a continuum – each with an increasing level of engagement and effectiveness.

1st – You can ignore someone (least engagement, least effective)

2nd – You can do to someone

3rd – You can do for someone

4th – you can do with someone (most engagement, most effective)

Take some time to notice how you interact with people (or how they interact with you) as you move through your day.  Take some time to reflect on all of your roles – parent, employee, volunteer, friend, spouse, etc. I believe you will find that the greatest memories, the best times, the funniest moments, the healthiest outcomes, the longest lasting impacts, and the most compelling conversations occur when you DO WITH.

So how does this apply to community colleges?

As stated in a previous post, today’s conventional wisdom is that “students don’t do optional.” Community colleges, thus, have focused on two primary tactics for increasing college completion: (1) mandates and (2) automations. These tactics perpetuate the “DO TO” and “DO FOR” relationship model. What do we DO TO them? We mandate policies, student orientations, student success courses, and advisor visits prior to registration (for example). What do we DO FOR them? We streamline registration and automate graduation applications (for example). Of course, the intentions motivating the things we DO TO and DO FOR students generally come from a good place. Every administrator I know desires to remove unnecessary hurdles, respond to student needs, and create an environment for students to be successful.


What what are the unintended consequences of operating only from the DO TO and the DO FOR zone? Are we unintentionally perpetuating the belief that we have to do things to and for students because they can’t or won’t? Are we doing the right things (or too many things) TO and FOR students for the sake of completion and at the mercy of education? If we agree (as mentioned in a previous post) that the Completion Agenda should be expanded in two ways: (1) to include people (not just policy and process); and (2) to focus more on employability and less on completion, then doing TO and doing FOR is insufficient.

In addition to what we do TO and FOR students, what if we simultaneously and purposefully move toward the DO WITH end of the continuum? What if we treated students as partners in education, inviting them to share in the responsibility for their education? What would that look like?  How do we do that? What would the outcomes be? How have you accomplished this at your own institution?

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